E-books bring opportunities and issues for your school, its library, and your students. Making sound decisions on e-books will require you to keep up to date with developments around copyright, devices, delivery, availability and sources.
E-book readers and other devices to read e-books
Digital Rights Management (DRM)
Acquisition of e-books for your library
Sources of e-books
The NZ e-Readers Taskforce
E-books and libraries: issues and challenges
An e-book, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary of English is ‘an electronic version of a printed book which can be read on a personal computer or hand-held device designed specifically for this purpose.’
Holden (2010) defines an e-book simply as “A text that is entirely available in electronic form. May be born digital or not.”
E-books are portable, transferable and searchable. The text can also include multimedia files, such as music, movie or image files.
Some e-books are digitised versions of out-of-copyright books, or electronic versions of more recently published books, others are published in both print and e-formats, while some born digital items are only published online.
Production costs for e-books are much lower than publishing on paper, and new editions can be created more frequently. There is also a growing self-publishing market.
Educause provides a non-technical description of e-books in: 7 things you should know about e-books (PDF)
Starting with Project Gutenberg in 1971 the digitisation of books been steadily developing over a 40-year period, from the pre-Internet days of the ‘70s and 80s, accelerating in the years since 2000. Here is an excellent timeline showing the evolution of e-books.
To read an e-book, one option is to use an ‘e-book reader’, often just called an ‘e-reader’.
An e-reader is a portable electronic device, low-powered, with high resolution, designed specifically to enable you to read digital books and other printed material. They use e-ink technology rather than an LCD screen, with black-and-white resizable text.
The screen display simulates printed paper, and eliminates glare in strong sunlight, reducing eye-strain. Screen size is typically 6 inches (diagonally) – smaller than the average paperback book cover – although Amazon’s Kindle v3 is 7.5 x 4.8 inches.
Because the e-ink technology only uses power when the text changes, as when moving to a new page, the battery has a long life – up to 10 days. Many e-readers allow you to highlight text and make annotations, and have the capacity to store a whole library of titles on the one device.
One example is Asus’s latest e-reader, for release in September 2010, named the Eee Tablet, “designed for digital note-taking in addition to reading e-books. Asustek has …[put] a 2-megapixel camera on board so students can take pictures of lecture slides as well, and connect to a laptop or desktop…Students can use the stylus for digital note-taking on the device’s touchscreen … designed so a user feels like they’re writing on paper.”
-Dan Nystedt. Asus’ new 10- and 12-inch Eee pad tablets.
Other devices, especially portable devices such as PDAs, laptops, netbooks, and smartphones can also be used to read e-books. However, LCD screens can be affected by glare, and battery life can be as short as 10 hours.
Whatever portable device you use, it will be your channel for accessing licensed content.
For an easy-to-read, non-technical overview of e-readers, see 7 Things you should know about e-readers (PDF) published by Educause, March 2010.
For the more technically minded, Wikipedia offers a comparison chart, showing all the main players in the current international e-reader market: Comparison of e-Book Readers. Note, not all these products will be available in New Zealand.
Content compatibility across platforms is another area you will have to research carefully, as some e-readers will only read e-books in proprietary formats, while other e-books come in formats such as HTML. Kindle, for instance, uses Amazon’s proprietary format AZW. Adobe’s EPUB is supported by the Sony Reader series, the QUE proReader, and the entourage eDGe.
To keep up with the play on e-readers, you will have to watch out for press releases, advertising campaigns by the main players in the field, and news items in journals and newspapers.
With the huge uptake of the iPad, it looks as though the trend is towards convergence - with portable devices serving as e-readers and serving as a one-stop-shop enabling users to undertake many other off-line and online activities.
This field is in a state of continuous change, and you will need to be well-informed before making any decisions.
Digital Rights Management (DRM) is about the terms and conditions that place limits on copying, printing, and sharing of e-books.
E-books are usually limited to a certain number of reading devices, and some e-publishers prevent any copying or printing. This is one area in which you need to do your research carefully, as DRM adds a layer of complexity to e-book publishing.
Adobe Reader and Microsoft Reader are two software programmes commonly used to view e-books, and each of these takes a different approach to DRM.
Using Adobe Reader, files can be restricted or unrestricted, governing what you as the reader can do. You can print some e-books, or copy text to the clipboard, or transfer PDF files if they are unrestricted. More highly restricted e-books will prevent a user from printing any of the book, or copying and pasting selections of text. These levels of permissions are set by publisher and distributor.
If you are using Microsoft Reader, its DRM provides for three levels of access control.
The processes for acquiring e-books will be different from dealing with physical books, and your workflow will have to be flexible. We are now focusing on ‘content’ rather than ‘format’ – and the content we acquire for our users includes e-books.
Holden (2010) outlines some of the challenges, and the three main ways libraries can acquire e-books: subscription of packaged items; purchase of packaged items; and purchase of individual titles.
Once acquired, you can add a bibliographic record to your catalogue. By including an embedded hyperlink, you allow your users to connect directly to the e-book, via the e-book platform.
For further reading, see:
Holden, Jesse. (2010). Acquisitions in the new information universe: core competencies and ethical practices. London, Facet Publishing.
Several organisations, such as Google (Google Scholar and Google Book Search), NetLibrary, Questia, and the Open Content Alliance, are building collections of e-resources aimed at researchers and the academic market. Amazon is well-known as a supplier of e-books.
This area will be constantly developing, and it would be a good idea to follow the New Zealand eReaders Taskforce wiki to keep up with the latest information.
To compare e-book platforms used by a range of e-book aggregators here is a tool that provides information on each of the following seven e-book aggregators: Credo Reference, EBL - E-book Library, MyiLibrary, Taylor & Francis e-Bookstore, NetLibrary, Dawsonera, and ebrary.
For further reading see: Upshall, Michael. (2009). Content licensing: buying and selling digital resources. Oxford, Chandos Publishing.
The NZeRT, New Zealand eReaders Taskforce is “a group of interested librarians, information specialists and educators looking to the future of libraries and learning” whose focus is to:
To find out more, join the NZeRT wiki and follow the discussion. You may also be able to participate in discussions at meetings in your area. Within this wiki you will also find the School Library support page.
Library managers will have to make decisions about whether to invest in proprietary e-book files that will only work on a limited range of devices, or to go for non-proprietary file formats that are supported by a number of e-readers.
This is an area under constant development, and you are sure to find that the delivery channels for e-books will change over time. Some e-readers are already including multimedia and other software, suggesting their evolution into multifunctional devices.
School libraries will have to do a great deal of thinking in areas of collection development, such as
Eric Hellman (2010) states: “The shift to ebook delivery presents a variety of challenges for libraries. They’ll have to figure out how to manage ebook reading devices, reader application software, rights management, and licensing. An even larger challenge will be learning how to work alongside publishers and distribution channels to make it as easy for patrons to use ebooks as it is for them to use print books today…
“Cheap digitization will allow libraries to expand the reach of collections, while lowered barriers to publication will help libraries foster written scholarship into the future… School librarians may well find…ebook reader devices being cheap enough that it will be economically feasible to put an entire school library and all of a school’s textbooks into every student’s backpack.“ - Library Journal, 15 August 2010. Libraries, ebooks and competition
Hellman points out that the professional expertise of librarians is needed now more than ever, to guide and support students at all levels as they learn how to find, access, evaluate, and interact with digital information. “Devices don’t make that happen by themselves, even if they come with thousands of carefully selected ebooks.” (Hellman, 2010)
“It’s likely that ebook technology will be marketed to schools as replacement for print collections, backpack-emptiers, and cost-savers. But the available research shows that it’s having sufficient staff—not sufficient content—that really works. Switching to ebooks will make sense for school libraries only when they result in savings of time and money that allow library staff to increase their focus on instruction and interaction with students and other teachers.” - Eric Hellman: Ebook summit Preview: Should kids get ebooks in school? Library Journal, 24 August 2010.
Linton Weeks sees enormous potential for e-books in education:
“Free and downloadable textbooks are at the heart of the growing ‘open educational resources’ movement that seeks to make education more available and more affordable…As a result, more and more textbooks — and books of all kinds — will be more up to date and content-rich, stretching beyond words on a page to incorporate changing visuals, interactive possibilities and motion pictures and sound. Writers and editors are being challenged to find new and creative ways to tell stories.” - Linton Weeks: Books have many futures, on NPR website, 20 August 2010
Libraries, including school libraries are facing uncertainty about the best time and most effective way to introduce e-book services. You may decide to wait a bit longer, and see how public and academic libraries are dealing with the various options for e-book access. There are sure to be further developments in options such as consortia arrangements for purchasing. But one thing is certain – libraries need to explore and embrace these technologies.
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