Thursday, February 7, 2008

"Born Digital" and "Print-on-Demand"

Most if not all of the readers of this blog are familiar with e-books. Many if not most readers have qualms about reading a book on their computers or even on the latest, most user-friendly e-book reader. However, e-books haven't faded away despite such resistance. Notably, made the news recently with its new Kindle e-book reader, thereby raising public awareness of this publishing format and possibly opening up a larger market for it.

Scholarly interest in e-books has been spotty at best. But there are numerous examples of e-book projects that give us an idea of what may lie ahead for this form of scholarly communication. One of the best examples is ACLS Humanities E-Book. (ACLS stands for the American Council of Learned Societies.) The BC Libraries subscribe to this collection, and there are records for each title in Quest. The majority of the ACLS titles are viewable as page images; the entire collection is keyword searchable. The look and feel of this portion of the collection are probably familiar to readers who have consulted similar collections on the web.

I would like to focus on two aspects of ACLS Humanities E-Book which may not be as familiar: books "born digital" and "print-on-demand." Among its over 1,700 digitized books, 55 are in XML format. Being in the XML format means that the reader is no longer viewing images of print pages but XML-encoded text. Explanations of XML-encoded books are available on the ACLS e-book site. Of the 55 XML-encoded books, 35 exist only in XML format; there are no print versions with the standard page numeration. They are often described as "born digital." A natural question: If there aren't any pages, how does one cite text? The answer is by paragraph number. Here is an example of an XML-encoded book: Sweated work, weak bodies : anti-sweatshop campaigns and languages of labor.

The next possible question: Why would digitized monographs find any readers? Most of us do not want to read a whole book online! This kind of book would be useful, of course, because it is searchable, but no one would read it entire. To meet an obvious need, the ACLS e-book site offers something called print-on-demand. According to the site:
"Print-on-Demand is a fairly recent technology that uses digital printing techniques to produce standard print books in a rapid and cost-effective process." More information is available.

In our consideration of
ACLS Humanities E-Book, are we glimpsing future publishing trends? The only possible answer: "Time will tell."

No comments: