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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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    Thursday, August 09, 2007

    e-Books: Definitions

    Having just praised Ellen Hage for her coverage of e-book readers, I find I have to take issue with her over her definition of an e-book. In her latest Tech From an E-booker's Viewpoint post,
    You could already be an e-booker, she says:
    I think that when we talk about e-books in our daily conversations, we need to simplify the definition. I define e-books simply as digital text. It can be a book, but it can also be an article, an email, RSS feed, even a web page.
    I'm sorry, but 'No'. I have in the past complained about the tendency to use the term 'e-content', thus blurring the lines between the various forms: journal article, book, web page, etc and I stand by that view, and this is one step further on a very slippery path. So far as I can tell the term originated about four years ago and found credence with e-book aggregators such as NetLibrary who found it convenient as a marketing ploy - their content databases thus able to add value by including journal articles and reports linked to the books. OCLC, who own NetLibrary, stated that “content consumers are format-agnostic” and ebrary and Questia followed suite. It may be that the Google-led content consumer is format-agnostic, but scholars distinguish quite clearly between a whole variety of e-content: textbooks are different from scholarly monographs which are different from fiction which is different from a scholarly journal article which is different from a magazine article or a newspaper column...

    Each has differing degrees of authority, bias, consistency, timeliness and so on. It is important for students and scholars to be aware of these differences when they use and (hopefully) cite some e-content, and publishers would be the first to note the value that they add (see last post here) to author's content - their stamp of quality on a scholarly monograph or journal article which is completely missing from a web site or a weblog.

    Fortunately, I suspect that William Savage, claiming that
    The article is also where it’s at, academically speaking... The article, therefore, has become the new book...
    in Articles vs. Books: An Editor Divides the Laurels (Journal of Scholarly Publishing - Volume 38, Number 4, July 2007, pp. 249-254) is not blurring any distinctions between the two, but simply making a case for articles as the prime communications medium. [There is plenty of room for debate on this issue too, as it is based on the premise that books will not be published for much longer by university presses, and that articles are - unlike books - archived electronically. I would suggest that e-books may well be one route through which university presses are able to maintain their role, and that the second statement is just plain wrong.] I accept Ellen Hage's contention that, in terms of reading on an e-book reader, there is little (except perhaps length - but that's another issue from the last posting!) to distinguish one form of text from another, but I cannot accept her simplification of the definition. Although it is a little early to be announcing it, I have an article due to appear in the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science (JOLIS) - probably at the end of this year or the beginning of 2008 - entitled 'Books in a virtual world: The evolution of the e-book and its lexicon' which, in the words of the abstract,
    examines the variety of definitions used to date while proposing a definitive construct. Beginning by examining the definitions of ‘book’, the paper moves on to consider the essential element of a book – the content, and to examine publishing and structural aspects of e-books, as well as their place in libraries, before arriving at a final definition. The definition and its derivation embrace all of the issues that affect the way in which e-books are understood and used today.
    What it does not do is conflate web sites, books and journals into an amorphous mass of e-content!

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