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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.


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    Friday, March 24, 2006

    When is an e-book not an e-book?

    So Google is to sell e-books.
    e-Books have been around in one form or another for quite a long time. Many are available free of charge on archives of e-texts such as Gutenberg and the University of Virginia text archive, or on the less academic The Literature Network. These are all 'plain-vanilar' text offering none of the bells and whistles to be found in charged-for collections such as NetLibrary or Oxford Reference Online or xreferplus. They all match the definition of e-books given by the 2003 International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science
    The result of integrating classical book structure, or rather the familiar concept of a book, with features that can be provided within an electronic environment is referred to as an electronic book (or e-book), which is intended as an interactive document that can be composed and read on a computer.
    But some offer more, so much more than just the scanned text. In an era where 'web', 'library' and even 'reading' have appended '2.0' to demonstrate their superior systems facility, isn' t it a shame that Google's offering in the e-books arena is the same plain vanilla that was being offered by Gutenberg in the early 70s? Actually, its a step back, because we are told that Google's books will "not be downloadable, printable or shareable in any way." As the if:books blog has it, if we:
    evaluate it in the terms of a social space — say, a seminar room or book discussion group. In a Google/Amazon ebook you will not be allowed to:
    - discuss
    - quote
    - share
    - make notes
    - make reference
    - build upon
    This is the book as antisocial software. Reading is done in solitary confinement, closely monitored by the network overseers...
    Was anything ever designed so well to deter use? This is not a library of e-books but a chained-library. I know publishers are nervous about what they call their authors' rights, and what we call their profits - but surely between Google and the publishers, they could have arrived at a better model - one that encourages use by individuals and libraries; one that adds value to the texts they scan? Couldn't they?

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