E-books in the Academy — A Story of Limitations and Affordances

Very interesting article in The Scholarly Kitchen by Joseph Esposito.  Worth reading the whole thing:

Saint Jerome in his Study, fresco by Domenico ...

Saint Jerome in his Study, fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1480 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The inexorable march of e-book adoption may be heading into a wall in the most unexpected market — the academy. It’s strange that this should be the case, inasmuch as universities are arguably the most wired segment of American society today, but several conversations I have had of late with academic librarians make me wonder if the “affordances” of e-books, at least in their current form, make them inferior in some respects to print.

By “affordances” I mean the properties of e-books and what they enable us to do. We know that print, for example, has among its properties the ability to store a fixed text and that e-books (when properly configured) permit us to link to other documents and perform full-text search. What librarians are telling me is that their patrons — some of their patrons, at any rate — are expressing reservations about plans to migrate to a mostly- or all-digital strategy.  There are things that some scholars can do with paper that they can’t do with digital editions, and they are thus encouraging librarians to continue to acquire print for the library collection.

4 Comments on E-books in the Academy — A Story of Limitations and Affordances

  1. A commenter on the article page makes a suggestion that I agree with: That this is merely a familiarity issue; or, old dogs uninterested in learning new tricks. The article is actually pretty empty as far as reasons that printed books are better, while citing DRM-encryption is the only real complaint lodged against ebooks.

    I particularly liked this:

    Now that we increasingly are seeing people working at computers with multiple monitors, we should not be surprised that others want even more “windows” open in the form of multiple print documents spread across a desk or table or even on the floor. E-books are not good for this (among other things).

    As if using the floor for research space is a particularly effective working process. Let’s face it: The ebooks’ search function alone is enough to trump most of the qualities of print.

  2. Screen text is self-indexing while paper text is self-authenticating. Scholars value and use both affordances. The academy is perhaps the most forward looking sector regarding future prospects for the book. They anticipate a dynamic interdependence of screen and print books.

  3. Binko Barnes // April 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm //

    It’s pretty amusing that anybody would make the argument that print books allow you to access more information simultaneously because you can leave massive piles of open books and stacks of paper strewn all over your office.

    The only valid point here regards restrictions from DRM and device lockdown. As always, this is pretty much the only thing holding society back from a vast increase in access to information in the digital age.

  4. Greg Schofield // April 5, 2012 at 7:20 pm //

    Citing, ebooks have no universal method of citing quotes. Marginalia, and other support for annotation that is also needed.

    Page references from printed editions need to be tabled in a predictable and useful way — we need academic standards and most of all TEI (Text encoding Imitative) has to become part of ePub.

    These things have been obvious from day one. Along with hash certification (that the listed contents have not been changed and simple and free data base of Ids and citation.

    My view is that where a system exists such as Shakespeare’s line reference, and Bible verse reference, each item gets its edition Id plus its sequence position, any fragment that keeps its tags can thus be not only cited, but also replaced into its context.

    On this issue I desperately wish I was not just one of the unwashed and could get things moving it seems like a mass myopia — the solutions are not even difficult, the means for resolving every problem lie about us begging to be used, and collectively we just miss seeing the problem let alone think about what is in front of us as a solution.

    Citing, quoting, reconstruction and contextualisation, layers of tagging that TEI can provide for manuscripts, their analysis, and the tools for translation, exegesis and notation. These things are all in XML already developed and in use and over which CSS3 can be applied seamlessly.

    My holy of holies, is the university library, the intellectual global commonwealth becomes accessible to villager with a mobile phone. That with some cheap hardware anyone can tap into the repository, study and perhaps contribute.

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