Although there is plenty of controversy about ebooks, both in the context of libraries (university, public, etc.) and individual use, and in the world of publishing, ebooks are here and they are here to stay. Likewise, it is also interesting to see what effects reading books online has on reading comprehension.
Nowadays almost everyone has found themselves consulting or reading a book in electronic format, whether for pleasure, studies or work. Thanks to my experience as a librarian at an online distance education university, I have found that there are some things about ebooks that I like more than others.
The fact that works can be found using the Library’s discovery tool saves me having to search twice and remembering whether the Library has a paper or electronic copy. Having access to the works in electronic format when I’m signed in to the Campus (i.e. guaranteeing access from a range of IP addresses) makes it much easier to consult them and means I don’t have to worry about remembering different passwords for each work or publisher.
There are also occasions when I don’t start my searches for information from the Library. It is really useful that the publishers have added all their metadata to Google Scholar and that libraries update Google Scholar with all their holdings via link resolvers (in our case, SFX) so that we can find the full text easily.
Thus, the new networked information ecosystem currently in place means that you can set up alerts for citations received by works from the same tool you use to consult these works. Or spread the word via social networks.
Once you’ve found the work you’re looking for, it is really useful to have the option to search its contents. Having access to this option from within the work often means finding links to other books or articles from the same publisher that may be related. There are still plenty of limitations here, though, as these recommendations are often restricted to content belonging to the publisher in question. They can be useful, but you should always bear this in mind. Hopefully discovery tools, or what will come to replace them, can soon create more comprehensive indexes to help interconnect all the content available in books.
Indeed, with the above in mind, ebooks have seen the final pages with bibliographic references become even more valuable because, regardless of whether they belong to the same or a different publisher, they are now easier to find (provided the Library has access…) and thus easier to consult.
Nonetheless, from my point of view, the search options that link whole books, chapters, articles and other sources of information highlight the potential risk of losing the idea of the book as it stands and as we know it with a first and a last page. In other words, I can consult a book’s content as a separate entity and chapters become objects that can be linked to other pieces of information relatively independently, as is the case with songs online. We’ll have to see what effects this taking apart of the unit that is a book has on their editing and publishing.
I do find it useful that book chapters have the same options for exporting, sharing and linking as whole books.
Despite the ubiquitous nature of the internet and the corresponding mobility, something that is becoming increasingly real, being able to read books offline and in formats other than PDF, such as ePub and Mobipocket, would make reading them easier. Being able to forget about practical aspects like these and being able to read them on different devices depending on where you are would make life much easier. Likewise, being able to print off on paper without restrictions would make reading a lot easier for me, as I’m not a digital native.
When it comes to buying ebooks, there is no one way to go about it and there are still many aspects that need resolving. Right now in December 2014, a wish list would include removing DRM, offering access forever – even if this meant paying more, adding them to interlibrary loan systems and providing COUNTER-compliant usage reports.
Anna Zúñiga. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya LibTechNotes