17.355 books and their openings

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Wed Oct 29 2003 - 02:00:24 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 355.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

       [1] From: "Amsler, Robert" <Robert.Amsler@hq.doe.gov> (52)
             Subject: Books in the 21st century

       [2] From: Hope Greeenberg <hope.greenberg@uvm.edu> (13)
             Subject: Re: 17.343 open access

             Date: Wed, 29 Oct 2003 06:39:56 +0000
             From: "Amsler, Robert" <Robert.Amsler@hq.doe.gov>
             Subject: Books in the 21st century

    Two items of note which I have not seen mentioned on Humanist and a comment.

    (1) Amazon.com has created a new searching capability for the 130,000 books
    in their active inventory. They have scanned and OCRed the books and now
    allow online visitors to search the texts of the books for any words they
    wish, for free. They will even retrieve and display the pages found, one at
    a time. This is being done by Amazon to sell more books, reasoning that
    providing a glimpse "Inside the Book" will promote sales rather than
    diminishing them. The OCR has not been corrected, the searches are simple
    ANDs, but it is a very impressive trove of material.

    (2) eBooks have recently become more of a reality with NetLibrary.com,
    which has on the order of 60,000 books in complete text fidelity available
    for libraries and individuals to purchase access rights. They have
    completed deals with a number of publishers, especially university
    presses, to put their works online and accessible from anywhere on the
    Internet. The effort here seems to be to create an electronic equivalent to
    the printed book for the purposes of sales and access. Member libraries
    integrate the eBooks they purchase into their electronic card catalogs.
    Patrons of those libraries can acquire access through signing up from a
    library terminal and thereafter search, browse and check-out books over the
    Internet anywhere after logging into their user account via NetLibrary.com.
    eBooks are accessible a page at a time. Browsing is for 15 minute
    intervals. Browsing or checking an eBook out denies access to other library
    patrons while that eBook copy is in use. I.e., just as with physical books,
    a library only has access to as many copies as they individually purchased.

    I can't but believe these two events, happening so close together, signal a
    significant turning point in the history of the book. From this point
    forward it is likely books will become increasingly electronic in their
    access--and the temptation of libraries to not acquire physical books (or
    to discard "old and obsolete" books) will become stronger and stronger. The
    danger is that out-of-print and out-of-copyright works (the so-called
    "orphans" of Brewster Kahle) will be lost before they become digital and
    that future generations of students will be unwilling to search through the
    undigital past, if they can find any surviving physical copies at their

    The only solution I can see is for the major book institutions of the world
    to digitize their collections to avoid a form of obsolescence comparable to
    having their entire physical collections placed in archival storage,
    accessible only to dedicated scholars for slow painstaking access. The
    Library of Congress needs to update its criterion for collecting print
    materials to require an electronic copy be made available to their
    collection in order to secure copyright.

    The perspective of those of us who grew up with physical books is to rail
    against a future in which someone wants to replace print with digital
    text--however, the perspective from the future will be to marvel at anyone
    who would put up with the limitations of print access and the
    inaccessibility of print books. Try to imagine how engravers and
    illustrators felt when photography came into existence and displaced their
    works from magazines and newspapers. At first photography in mass
    reproduction was crude--but it was far less expensive and time consuming to
    use. Today we regard photography as an art form and would probably feel
    cheated if the newspapers only showed illustrations of news stories and not
    actual photographs.

             Date: Wed, 29 Oct 2003 06:40:39 +0000
             From: Hope Greeenberg <hope.greenberg@uvm.edu>
             Subject: Re: 17.343 open access

    It is interesting to read this discussion during the week that Amazon.com
    has initiated their new "Search Inside the Book" feature. It raises many
    questions: is Amazon responding to an expressed need on the part of its
    readers? how many books do people read and how many books do people simply
    glean information from? how do these patterns of use determine our
    assumptions about the "appropriate" method of information delivery (do we
    always "need" paper-based text/do we always "need" searchable e-based
    text)? And the perennial question: how does the common student perception
    that "if it's not on the web it doesn't exist," combined with Amazon's
    bellweather-like models, shape future scholars' expectations about how
    information should be created and delivered?

    hope.greenberg@uvm.edu, University of Vermont

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