The Endangered Monograph
Capturing Our Print Past – Books Going Digital
Even while print publication is highly valued by authors and tenure committees alike, there are real and varied advantages of digital access to this material:
- content can be accessed anywhere, anytime, online.
- content remains available long after it is out of print.
- search and comparison capabilities, already powerful, continue to evolve.
- scholars can mount and share visual and print materials collected during the course of research.
"In my experience, few scholars feel particularly possessive about the material, even if they have often gathered it arduously, they share it readily with colleagues and students." (What Open Access Could Mean for the Humanities)
Over several years, a variety of vendors have made book content available in digital format. Many of these offerings are made on terms that benefit publishers over users. Not only do they often involve licensing terms based on leased vs. owned content, but the pricing is often 50-100% higher than their print equivalents. In many instances they place strict limits on functionality that are often criticized by readers. Limitations can include:
- page turning/viewing rates (number of pages per hour).
- number of pages downloaded or printed.
- number of simultaneous users.
Some digital material can only be accessed using proprietary e-book readers accessing subsets of digital material that is hard-coded to fit only the specific equipment — resulting in lots of digital material existing, but not being actually available across platforms. These limitations make the e-book in many instances an unacceptable surrogate for the print version.
The industry for e-book readers is evolving. It remains to be seen what niches the e-book reader will eventually fill. An interesting entrant on the scene is the Sony Reader:
"It uses an electronic paper display developed by E Ink Corporation … [it] uses an iTunes Store-like interface to purchase books — Sony's Connect eBook store. It also can display Adobe PDFs, personal documents, blogs, newsfeeds, JPEGs, and Sony's proprietary Bbeb ('BroadBand eBook') format." (Wikipedia)
The Sony Reader came on the market in late 2006. Other e-book readers are rumored on the near horizon.
More hopeful are projects that intend to make book content digitally available to the public, with maximum functionality, at an affordable cost. Libraries, including UC Libraries, are monitoring emerging models for digital book-like material and their respective costs, with the intent of helping to shape an economically sustainable and scholar-friendly future.
Two current examples are The Open Content Alliance and Google Books, where all one needs is a web browser to access content. UC Berkeley is a participant in both:
- The Open Content Alliance
"The Open Content Alliance (OCA) represents the collaborative efforts of a group of cultural, technology, nonprofit, and governmental organizations from around the world that will help build a permanent archive of multilingual digitized text and multimedia content. The OCA was conceived by the Internet Archive and Yahoo! in early 2005 as a way to offer broad, public access to a rich panorama of world culture." (Open Content Alliance FAQ)
As of February 1, 2007, UC had scanned about 37,000 volumes out of an original pick list of 70k. Another 180,000 items have been identified for the next phase of this project.
- Google Book Search Library Project
UC signed a six-year contract with Google, for scanning books. When in full production, the University will send 3,000 books a month. UC has sent 135,356 for scanning as of February 16, 2007. Daniel Greenstein, director of the California Digital Library, who helped set up the deal, said Google had committed early to a core value for the university: public access to the public-domain materials at no cost. "They said, As long as we are alive as a company, or successors are alive using this file, we will make it available for free," he said. "I've never seen this from anybody." (Chronicle of Higher Education: September 8, 2006)