Southern Illinois University
What if, instead of his e-book Riding the Bullet, Stephen King had published the definitive work on constitutional law? A new e-book that all of our attorneys, faculty and clients wanted immediately. Would we be equipped to handle the demand?
I agree the odds of King publishing such a work are slim, but it does raise the issue of how e-books fit into the flow of technical services. Stephen King published his latest work, Riding the Bullet, in electronic form. Barnes & Noble then developed an e-book center on its Web site to both market the text and the technology needed to view it. This resulted in a boost for the e-book industry and greater visibility for the technology.
While e-books may seem new, electronic texts have been with us for some time. Centers at Virginia, Michigan and Brown as well as the Oxford Text Archive and Project Gutenberg have long produced encoded electronic texts. These were directed at scholarly research, primarily in the humanities and social sciences. They were and are not as portable. That changed with the advent of e-book readers, devices that people can use to download and carry away texts. Previously a PC and/or an SGML viewer may have been needed to read the texts. Now it is possible to take your e-book to the beach, assuming you have enough batteries. E-books also now have a greater potential to penetrate mass, trade and text book markets.
How do you read an e-book? Portability is the key attraction. While you can carry a printed book just about anywhere, bringing your PC or laptop along is not always convenient. Rocket eBook, SoftBook Reader and EB Dedicated Reader are three alternatives for reading e-books. Prices range from $199.00 to $1,600.00 each, weight from 22 oz. to 2.9 lbs., and battery life from five to twenty hours. In most cases, purchasing the reader entitles the user to access that company’s library of e-books, but not always to share those e-books amongst other readers. Glassbook Reader and Microsoft Reader are software programs designed to turn your laptop, PC or hand-held device into an e-book reader. They focus on content rather than equipment. The number of titles available through each device is limited in both variety and accessibility. The underlying economic model has more in common with pay-per-view entertainment than traditional book selling.
One way of insuring widespread acceptance of e-books is by standardizing their development. Two organizations are currently looking at ways of doing this. The Open eBook Forum (OEBF) is an association of hardware and software companies, publishers and users of electronic books and related organizations. Its goals are to establish common specifications for electronic book systems, applications and products that will benefit creators of content, makers of reading systems and, most importantly, consumers, helping to catalyze the adoption of electronic books; to encourage the broad acceptance of these specifications on a worldwide basis among members of the Forum, related industries and the public; and to increase awareness and acceptance of the emerging electronic publishing industry. Members of the forum range from netLibrary and Microsoft to IBM, Brown University, Time-Warner, NIST, McGraw-Hill, and Adobe Systems, Inc. The primary technical achievement of the OEBF has been the creation of the Open eBook Publication Structure specification. This specification for e-book file and format structure rests on HTML and XML, the languages used to create information for Web sites. The Open eBook Publication Structure specifies e-book file format and structure; in other words, it ensures that content can be viewed on any reading system which is OEB-compliant — as long as the owner of the reading system has the right to read the content on that reading system. The specification incorporates features that ensure that content can be made accessible to persons with disabilities.
The Electronic Book Exchange (EBX) Working Group is an organization of companies and individuals developing a standard for protecting copyright in electronic books and for distributing electronic books among publishers, distributors, retailers, libraries, and consumers. The draft EBX specification accommodates a variety of content formats for electronic books, including Open eBook Publication Structure and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). The EBX system defines the way in which e-books are distributed from publishers to booksellers and distributors, from booksellers to consumers, between consumers, and between consumers and libraries. It describes the basic requirements of e-book reading devices and the e-books themselves. It also describes how these components interact to form a comprehensive copyright protection system that both protects the intellectual property of authors and publishers as well as describes the capabilities required by consumers.
How does the e-book development affect technical services? As with most digital library developments, it is not the technology itself, but the logistics surrounding its implementation that can cause the most headaches. The current relationship between the e-book supplier and the e-book reader is one to one. This poses a problem for libraries that wish to circulate the same text to multiple readers. A great advantage to e-books would be allowing multiple users concurrent access, but the industry has not yet come to grips with the licensing issues associated with this. There is also a subtler element. As e-book publishers begin marketing their libraries directly to consumers, where does the library fall in the relationship? Do we become kiosks where patrons come to download texts or will publishers bypass libraries entirely? Alternatively, as authors market their works more directly, where do publishers fall?
Cataloging e-books is not as thorny an issue as it would have been a few years ago. We have enough experience describing Web sites and databases now to approach cataloging e-books with confidence. The big issue to think about is licensing and acquisition. This is an area where TS librarians should take a long look and a strong role. In most cases, the e-book industry has not considered libraries. netLibrary is one exception. Innovative Interfaces recently announced a partnership with netLibrary. Under this agreement, Innovative Interfaces will enhance its Innopac and Millennium library automation systems to help manage the integration of netLibrary’s e-books into library collections. Innovative will write software notifying a library about new netLibrary e-books as they become available and enabling processing of payment for books the library selects. This system will include record-keeping and statistics features to assist the library in tracking these purchases. For one aspect of this joint project, Innovative will develop a specialized acquisitions interface to accommodate netLibrary’s e-books and business processes. Innovative will be developing and testing these enhancements through June 2000, with expected release of the software to customers by fall 2000. netLibrary is currently investigating partnerships with other LIS vendors as well. Such partnerships are one way of integrating the texts into our existing TS workflow.
A quick search on Netlibrary for the subject "Law" brought back 286 titles ranging from Dennis Coyle’s Property Rights and the Constitution to the Civil Code of the Russian Federation. Rocket eBook and SoftBook were developing lengthy lists of titles, but did not have many legal texts available.
For Further Information
"NetLibrary, Innovative Interfaces to Cooperate in Adding E-Books to Library Collections" by Marshall Breeding
"The E-Book Marketplace"
The Open eBook Initiative
Open eBook Publication Structure
The EBX Working Group
"Electronic Books: To E or not to E, That is the Question"