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Access issues II

Working with E-Books and Portable Reading Devices

Katie Wilson

Training consultant, Innovative Interfaces Inc.

Publishing books directly online is now a reality. Novels, non-fiction and text books are being sold exclusively in electronic format as well as in paper and online. e-books, newspaper and journal articles can be downloaded from the web into e-book devices and stored for reading at any time. How do the portable readers work and how do they compare with paper; can they be read in bed, or in the bath? How do portable reading and other devices impact on the online information and library world? Come and hear/read answers to these questions and more.

E-Books Arrive

Over the last year publishing of e-books has become a reality, slowly moving beyond the stages of possibility.

The gleam is already in the eyes of publishers and software companies; glossy advertising publications and Web sites are delivering hype-filled reasons why we need e-books. People are experimenting with formats, design, and content in electronic publishing.

When Stephen King, the popular fiction writer, published exclusively on the Internet a novella entitled Riding the Bullet, in March 2000 electronic publishing entered the popular commercial market. King followed this in July 2000, with the first installment of a novel, The Plant, and a subsequent block in August. Installments of 5,000 - 7,000 words were on offer at $1 a piece.

King started a trend. In September 2000, Frederick Forsyth, worldwide best-selling author, announced his intention to publish a series of five new stories, The Quintet, exclusively on the internet. The stories were launched from the Online Originals site ( and via major online bookstores. Online Originals launched the stories in a range of e-book formats, aiming to canvas as widely as possible the e-book market that has been fragmented by different reading software and devices.

Browse the e-book newsletter Pub Market Update at: and

and you'll see plenty of activity in the e-publishing market. How do e-books work and what are the implications for the library and information world?

How do e-books work?

An e-book is an electronic book of any length which can be downloaded, stored and read on a portable device such as a laptop, e-book reader or other handheld device. The mechanics of using e-books involves three components:

  1. the publication or distribution of e-books, that is, the full text of books, or other publications, in electronic format, accessible and able to be downloaded (generally this means via the internet). Examples of e-book aggregators (publishers and providers) are netLibrary, Barnes and Noble, iPublish, Online Originals as well as traditional publishers and individual writers.
  2. e-book application software to read the downloaded publications, such as Microsoft's eReader software which uses ClearType, 'sub-pixel font-rendering technology ' (Peek), and is designed to be downloaded into Microsoft's Pocket PC (competitor to Palm Pilot); netLibrary's e-book Reader software which is distributed free to netLibrary users to enable reading of e-books on PCs; PDF (portable document format); and PALM format from Palm Pilots.
  3. a portable device to read the e-books on. Examples are portable organisers such as Palm Pilots, Microsoft's pocket PC; personal computers and laptops; and specially designed hand held e-book devices such as Rocket e-Book, Franklin Electronic Publishers' e-bookman.

E-book formats and standards

At present the e-book world consists of a scramble to gain market share, with wide variations in formats. Products are released; others are withdrawn or delayed. Companies are taking over their competitors. Novels, non-fiction and text books are being sold exclusively in electronic format as well as in both paper and electronic formats. What standards exist in this changing market? The Open E-Book Standard (OEB) is the first body of technical standards to emerge in the epublishing environment. OEB was developed by the Association of American Publishers, Microsoft, Time Warner, Random House and other assorted companies (Jensen, 2000). Its major achievement to date is the development of a specification for e-book file and format structure, based on HTML and XML, aiming to provide unanimity in software format and reading devices.

Using E-Books

E-books, newspaper and journal articles can be downloaded from Internet Web sites into e-book readers and other portable devices, and stored for reading at any time. How do these portable readers work and how do they compare with paper; can they be read in bed, or in the bath?

E-book readers, PCs, and other hand-held devices do not yet replicate paper or the charming format of books that we have become so familiar with over hundreds of years. But recent developments point to new directions and methods of improving the functionality and readability of on-screen text. CoolType from Adobe, and Cleartype from Microsoft address font and display issues. E Ink Corp ( and Lucent's Bell Labs ( are working together to combine lightweight electronic paper with text that can be updated instantly from computers, wireless and Internet connections, using electronic ink and electronic transistors. Imagine having your newspaper or e-book printed on plastic, and updated every day by a wireless connection. No more newsprint to recycle...! Both companies are also working at improving better viewing devices and screens to be easier on the human eye.

Most e-book readers and software offer features such as keyword searching, word lookup, digital bookmarking and annotating capabilities that do not deface text. Many readers are backlit, providing ease of reading and their own light source (read in bed without a bedside lamp!).

Integration with the Online Catalogue

Library automation vendor Innovative Interfaces Inc. ( combines its library automation technology with netLibrary's growing collection of e-books. Full MARC records for e-books can be downloaded into a library's online catalogue, providing complete access to the e-book. The netLibrary record loading process is integrated into Innovative's Acquisitions module. The online catalogue links to netLibrary's e-books include search limits, previews, and the ability to check out e-books through a Web based catalogue, and the ability to annotate and highlight text. The library pays a license for multiple downloads or simultaneous checkouts by patrons.

Collection Development and Access

The e-book potential has grown substantially during 2000 but content and availability is still limited. Just what is available? A look at netLibrary, Barnes and Noble shows a small selection of material, but all promise to expand. NetLibrary is hoping to carve its way into the academic market in 200. Its Metatext Digital Textbook Solution offers electronic textbooks for students and packages for instructors combine content with links to other resources on the Web. Opportunities to track student progress and for students and academic staff to interactively communicate extend the instructional potential of e-books.

Ebrary ( offers the copying of text or printing of pages for a photocopier-like fee, providing publishers and authors with new revenues. Participating publishers and information providers will be able to determine the degree of access and costs associated with each of their titles. Random House Inc., Pearson and the McGraw-Hill Companies announced joint investments in in October 2000.

Major scientific publishers Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society are starting out conservatively with the epublication of reference materials such as encyclopedias, dictionaries and handbooks. Epublishing of these materials offer advantages in distribution and speed of updating.

Providing access to e-books is an issue for libraries to tackle. e-books are a further development in the online revolution in libraries, presenting questions to library management. Expand the physical collection or provide remote and portable access? Circulate e-book readers and supply software? Offer e-books alone or as well as print?

North Carolina State University libraries reports that they retain a print copy of every e-book they own.

This is a reminiscent of the early days of electronic indexes on CDROM when libraries kept the print copies of indexes until access issues were resolved. Similarly, with the introduction of the online catalogue, the card catalogue was retained to help guide library patrons through the transitional stage.

More or Less Control?

Parallels have been made with the music industry's downloadable MP3 format and Napster type companies, dedicated to the free distribution of music via the Internet, by-passing the record industry. However one critic, Michael Jensen, argues that current e-book developments are simply protecting the interests of traditional and intermediary publishers - 'retro glue' (Jensen 2000). He argues that the current model for e-books maintains the old style of separateness of books, and ignores the linking potential of online and the Web. But e-books are a new and developing industry which is already showing signs of evolving and morphing. Maintaining an existing model is playing it safe in an area where most consumers are wedded to a familiar format. Change is coming to an e-bookstore near you.


© ALIA [ feedback | update | privacy ] . 6:10am 27 February 2010

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