E-books as an independent medium

This is an english version of yesterday’s blogpost.

During the last weeks I was quite intensively concerned with the topic e-books. I had several talks at different occasions. And we have a project course running in our institute, where we discuss a lot about the future of e-books. At first I was interested in e-books as a medium that can be read on tablets and e-readers – and in all the challenges concerned with formats, DRM and so on. Meanwhile the media type itself is in the focus of my interest. I think that e-books have got a great potential that is not yet realized so far. In an article on e-books as a catalyst of change processes in libraries I made some reflections about the possible impact of e-books on business processes and tasks of libraries. But it goes further. Several important current trends concerning universities and academic libraries deal somehow with e-books: the self production of digital textbooks, publishing under open access, e-books as interactive multimedia in e-learning, publishing in mobile friendly formats and more…

The new format EPUB 3 opens different doors. At the moment e-books are usually just electronic versions of a print book. As it is typical for new technologies, in the beginning the new one just imitates the old one. For this purpose the PDF format (as a postscript file) is best fitted, because it is identical with the print output of a document created on a PC. Layout, font, line and page breaks are the same as in the document that was sent to the printer. The e-book format EPUB (in version 1 and 2) undermines some of these elements: the original line and page break is lost, the layout adapts to the device on which the document is displayed – just like web pages in the browser. Compared to the printed book there are no fixed page breaks, and that makes it difficult to cite an e-book in an academic context as we used to do. Furthermore there was already the possibility to integrate video and sound into the EPUB document. This way the format moved into a new direction, away from its printed counterpart. But that was just the beginning.

The format EPUB 3 is now the starting point for the emancipation of the e-book from the printed book. Technically an e-book in format EPUB is similar to a web page. It consists of zipped packages of different data types, pages in HTML5, media files like bitmap images (i.e. in format JPEG), video or sound. It contains also vector graphics in format SVG that can integrate interactive elements. Interaction can optionally also be programmed with Javascript, another current web technology. These elements can be used to enhance e-books with interactive elements, as we already know them from the web. Questions and answers with an immediate control can be integrated into a digital textbook. Learning controls can therefore be made directly in the e-book. Graphics can be designed so that they change or show additional information by touching them on the screen. Objects in 3D can be rotated and be viewed from different directions. Multimedia content like videos or sound can be integrated into the text and be played. These are standard features of EPUB 3, which can be displayed with appropriate programs (apps) on PCs or tablets. At the moment there are only a few devices and apps, but this is going to change soon.

Technically the new format opens a lot of new possibilities. Now there is the challenge to implement these features usefully into e-books. This is the same question as it is being discussed for quite a long time in e-learning. That’s why the solutions must be searched in this field too. It’s not enough to know how to do it technically. We must develop didactical and pedagogical concepts to use these features and functionalities in a useful way in new media. And there is much experience in e-learning on this topic. Now the production of content for digital textbooks has to be combined with the publishing of research output. So different departments of a university, (like an e-learning office, multimedia services or the library) have to work closely together. The library could be responsible for the publishing process under open access. And there could be new tasks for an academic library in this context: for example support and advice for researchers to produce e-books in an open standard or providing an appropriate platform to publish these e-books in the sense of an extended document server. Developing schemes for metadata and cataloguing the e-books could be further tasks for libraries.

We are today in a very exciting period where the course for the future are made. Publishers, booksellers, universities and libraries must redefine their roles in the process of producing and publishing e-books. Those who are not ready to move on, have bad cards in this game. And I see a growing importance of cooperation between different departments within universities in order to bring together different know-how for the production and publication of interactive multimedia e-books in open standards.

E-Books als eigenständiges Medium

there is an english version of this post

In den vergangenen Wochen habe ich mich recht intensiv mit E-Books befasst. Ursprünglich haben mich E-Books als Medium interessiert, das auf E-Readern und Tablets gelesen werden kann – oder auch nicht. Mittlerweile steht das Medium selber im Fokus. E-Books haben meiner Ansicht nach ein grosses Potential, das heute bei weitem noch nicht ausgeschöpft wird. Ich habe im Beitrag über E-Books als Katalysator für Veränderungsprozesse in Bibliotheken einige Gedanken geäussert, welchen Einfluss E-Books auf Geschäftsprozesse und Aufgaben von Bibliotheken haben können.

Doch es geht noch weiter. Mehrere wichtige aktuelle Trends aus dem Hochschulumfeld finden sich im Thema E-Books wieder: die Selbstproduktion digitaler Lehrbücher, die Publikation unter Open Access, E-Books als multimediale und interaktive Medien im E-Learning, die Bereitstellung von Inhalten zur mobilen Nutzung und noch mehr…

Das neue Format EPUB 3 öffnet verschiedene Türen. Momentan haben wir es bei den E-Books noch weitgehend mit einer elektronischen Version des gedruckten Buches zu tun. Wie bei früheren Entwicklungsschüben bildet das neue Medium E-Book zunächst einmal das alte Medium gedrucktes Buch ab. Dafür ist das Format PDF (als PostScript-Datei) wunderbar geeignet, da es ja der Druckausgabe eines auf dem Computer generierten Dokuments entspricht. Layout, Schrift, Zeilen- und Seitenumbruch entsprechen vollkommen dem zum Printer geschickten Dokument. Das Format EPUB hat in seiner ursprünglichen Form schon einige Elemente aufgeweicht: so geht der ursprüngliche Zeilen- und Seitenumbruch verloren, das Layout passt sich dem darstellenden Gerät an – genauso wie Webseiten im Browser. Gegenüber dem gedruckten Buch verändern sich die Seitenzahlen, wodurch die wissenschaftliche Zitierung im herkömmlichen Stil erschwert wird. Und durch die Möglichkeit, auch Videos und Töne in ein Dokument zu integrieren, bewegte es sich schon etwas weiter vom gedruckten Pendant weg. Doch das war nur der Anfang.

Das Format EPUB 3 bildet nun die Ausgangslage für eine Emanzipation des E-Books vom gedruckten Buch. Technisch gesehen ähnelt ein E-Book im EPUB-Format einer Website. EPUB 3 besteht aus zusammengepackten Dateien im Format HTML5, aus Mediendateien wie Rastergrafiken (z.B. im Format JPEG), Video oder Ton. Vektorgrafiken im Format SVG können interaktive Elemente enthalten. Interaktion kann optional auch mit Javascript programmiert werden, was ebenfalls aktueller Webtechnologie entspricht. Diese Technologien können dazu eingesetzt werden, um E-Books im EPUB 3-Format mit interaktiven Elementen auszustatten, wie wir sie aus dem Web bereits kennen. Lehrbücher lassen sich mit Prüfungs- oder Kontrollfragen ergänzen. Lernkontrollen können also im E-Book direkt erfolgen. Man kann Grafiken so gestalten, dass sie beim Anklicken oder bei Berührung via Touchscreen verändert werden. Dreidimensionale Objekte können gedreht werden und vieles mehr. Multimedia-Inhalte wie Videos oder Sound lassen sich integrieren und abspielen. Dies alles sind reine Funktionen des Formats EPUB 3, die von geeigneten Programmen (sprich: Apps) auf PCs oder Tablets abgerufen werden können. Aktuell sind es noch nicht viele Geräte und Programme, doch dies wird sich bald ändern.

Technisch bieten sich somit zahlreiche Möglichkeiten. Nun stellt sich die Herausforderung, diese Funktionen sinnvoll in E-Books zu integrieren. Es ist genau die gleiche Fragestellung wie sie auch im Bereich E-Learning die letzten Jahre diskutiert wurde. Entsprechend sind die Lösungsansätze auch hier zu suchen. Technische Machbarkeit alleine genügt nicht. Es müssen didaktische und pädagogische Konzepte entwickelt werden, wie diese vielfältigen Funktionen sinnvoll in neue Medien integriert werden können. Aus dem E-Learning liegt hier ein reicher Erfahrungsschatz vor.

Doch überschneiden sich jetzt die Produktion von Lehrinhalten mit der Publikation von Forschungsergebnissen. Es drängt sich also eine Zusammenarbeit der E-Learning-Stellen mit den Hochschulbibliotheken auf. Letztere sind für die Publikation der an der Hochschule selbst produzierten E-Books unter Open Access verantwortlich. Als neue Aufgaben könnten die Beratung von Hochschulangehörigen beim Produzieren der E-Books sowie die Bereitstellung einer entsprechenden Publikationsplattform – etwa im Sinne eines erweiterten Dokumentenservers – zum Portfolio der Bibliothek hinzu kommen. Die Beschreibung der E-Books mit geeigneten Metadaten wäre eine Erweiterung des bisherigen Bibliotheksauftrags.

Wir befinden uns an einem spannenden Punkt, an dem wichtige Weichen für die Zukunft gestellt werden. Verlage, Buchhändler, Hochschulen und Bibliotheken müssen ihre Rollen neu definieren, wollen sie weiterhin eine Rolle im Bereich des elektronischen Publizierens spielen. Wer sich nicht bewegt, hat in diesem Spiel schlechte Karten. Und ich sehe eine zunehmende Bedeutung der Kooperation innerhalb der Hochschulen, um unterschiedliches Know-how gemeinsam zur Produktion und Publikation multimedialer, interaktiver und offener E-Books zu nutzen.

Sorry, this post is in German first – but I’ll try to translate it as soon as possible…

E-Books as Catalyst for Processes of Change in Academic Libraries

This is a summary of my article published in BuB – Forum Bibliothek und Information 64 (2012) S.604-608.

E-books are not merely a new medium increasingly being offered to users of academic libraries. E-books have the potential to initiate or to accelerate the processes of change within the core responsibilities of librarianship – acquisition, basic cataloging, descriptive cataloging – and even ultimately the use of media. In my article I describe how e-books can be a catalyst for greater transformations.

It is undisputable that e-books have found their place in academic libraries. But scientific support for this assertion is not (yet) possible. Statistical data as collected for library performance indexes or reports does not have a unique category for e-books. Even the definition of the term E-Book is still generally unclear. Another question arises with the definition of holdings – what does it mean for a library’s holdings if there are temporarily licensed e-books? Or if the library offers a catalogue of e-books for Patron Driven Acquisition that are only bought when a user wants to download the document? Furthermore e-books accelerate some more changes in the process of acquisition. There are new business models and new ways of selection. The role of reference librarians will change when the selection of books is no more their main task. Then also cataloguing is influenced by e-books. If a library gives only access to a document hosted on the server of a publisher, there will be no more reason to catalogue it separately in every library. Automatic cataloguing, extraction of metadata will be more important than today. And users won’t care about a reduction of quality of metadata – as long as they can find the documents easily.

Another impact of e-books is how scientific scholarly documents are read. It is a standard that e-books are published like volumes of an e-journal: each chapter is a separate PDF document (according to an article in a volume). The download of a complete book is not allowed because this would be a copy of a complete work. This makes users read only the chapter they are really interested in and they don’t read the context of the information. This leads to a fragmentation of information. Another aspect is the bad usability of this kind of documents: the files have no specific name and have no integrated metadata. So, if you download a file, you have to rename it and organize the files on your desktop in order to find the information later on. Another issue with e-books (and e-journals) is the exclusion of non-members of the faculty. This is quite a serious problem for academic libraries in Europe, because they are usually also libraries open to the public. But this user group has got no remote access to the licensed electronic documents. A solution could be to lend the e-books electronically (e-lending). This service is offered more and more by public libraries, but hardly by academic libraries. Another question is how the usage of e-books on mobile devices as e-reader or tablets can be supported by libraries. One important task is to offer e-books in a format that can be used on these devices. Another service can be training and support for the usage of tablets and e-readers.

There are signs that e-books will develop to a new kind of media type that differs clearly from a electronic version of a print monograph. Publishers already try to offer e-books on large platforms. There the e-books – or the chapters of e-books – are linked to other resources, aggregated with metadata, eventually by linked data. Users will be able to annotate selected documents, store them and maybe share them to others. But also publishing and distribution e-books could change fundamentally. New tools give the possibility to researchers and teachers to produce enhanced e-books on their own or (maybe) supported by the library. Self produced e-books and textbooks then could be published on document servers under open access Openly Accessible.

The role of academic libraries in this context is hardly to predict. There are a lot of risks and also chances. The libraries could give support to new publishing models and offer new services to researchers and teachers. But they need to collaborate with other institutions like IT services or multimedia productions.

We find ourselves at the onset of a new development and are still lacking basic data and insights. The development of e-books and their effects on libraries, booksellers and publishing will be a central area of research for library science in the coming years.