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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, October 25, 2007

    Scrolling the Scroll: e-Books beyond 2007

    Following on from my last posting on the definition of e-books, and the appropriateness of my term ‘book-like’, I was struck by a sentence in an article by Kathleen Fitzpatrick: New (Social) Structures for New (Networked) Texts. She wrote,
    [Peter] Stallybrass notes the irony in digital textuality’s regression from the kinds of manipulation that the codex made possible, reimposing the limitations of the scroll on our reading practices.
    It is not the first time that I have noted that so-called added-value features, much-vaunted by publishers, struggle to maintain the functionality of print-on-paper books.

    The 600-year old book model has served us very well, but that does not mean that its look-and-feel should be replicated in some way on the screen: this simply leads to something that is neither fish nor fowl. The model may be so familiar that we do not need instructions in its use, but copy that model to the screen and – instantly – the visual clues and automatic responses are lost. Change it to a web page and the bookness has gone!

    When it passes from the codex to the monitor screen the ‘same’ text is no longer truly the same because the new formal mechanisms that deliver it to the reader modify the conditions of its reception and its comprehension (Chartier, quoted by Fitzpatrick)
    Books… moved within a set of social and communal structures that greatly affected their reception and comprehension
    Kathleen Fitzpatrick suggests another model – the CommentPress of McKenzie Wark’s GAM3R 7H30RY, for example, and we are beginning to get to a model that is fit for purpose – except that I would argue that the purpose is about the writing process rather than the reading of a published book. Web 2.0 theory would suggest that today’s readers want participation, want to be able to write as well as read, want the social networking, but I am not sure that this is true when they come to reading a novel, a textbook or a scholarly monograph – at least, not at the level offered by CommentPress.

    In my last posting I pointed readers to the visual de-constructed text model also offered for Wark’s work: if a screen facsimile of a book offers too few visual clues, this certainly leaves the user/reader floundering. It may work for textual analysis, but it does not lend itself to any greater understanding or deeper reading; users would not emerge with a holistic view of the book or any of its (quite short) chapters.

    Unable to propose a better model than a PDF-like facsimile of the printed page, or CommentPress – described as “one example of a fruitful avenue of development” – I sense that the e-book, if it is to be truly successful must move on; it is still a technology in its infancy, something on the verge of a great development.

    Most existing books – and there are a lot of them – a designed to be read laterally. What can we add in the transition to e-book? Kathleen Fitzpatrick has little praise for hypertext, but to follow Minsky’s lead ("Can you imagine that they used to have libraries where the books didn't talk to each other?”), perhaps – along with some formatting that fits whole pages on a screen without scrolling, the task is to link concepts and terms both in-book and cross-library so that readers could, for example, change viewpoint within a book and read all of one character’s action contiguously without the other characters’ interruptions, while – at the same time – automatically picking up textual analysis or word meanings from other books. All of which is to ignore the author’s original intent, of course!


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