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Well, I promised you a post about what I hate about ebooks. I wish I hadn’t. But it’s important to balance the flow of love with some of the more negative issues that surround ebooks. There’s no way I can possibly cover all of them (mainly because I probably haven’t thought of most of them!), so here are a few things that affect me.
Lending ebooks. Well, you can’t. I suppose you technically could, by physically handing over your ebook device, but that assumes a number of things:
- that you don’t mind being without that device for however long it takes for them to read the book
- that you trust that person with your possibly-very-expensive device (as opposed to, say, an 8 quid paperback)
- that the person you are lending it to is comfortable with reading ebooks a) in general b) on your device in particular
(That last is quite an important point – none of the three people I most regularly lend books to read ebooks. This, for me, takes a lot of the joy out of book ownership. Visitors to my house rarely go home without having at least one book eagerly pressed upon them; some leave with bagfuls.)
If you don’t want to hand your device over, can you lend an ebook? Certainly not (legally) an in-copyright work – you’ll have to enjoy it alone.
Ahh, copyright, the bane of the ebook world! Let me admit (cue career death and professional ostracism) that I have broken UK copyright law, by reading certain ebooks. Now, I’m certainly not admitting to being part of the growing piracy network for ebooks, but I have fallen foul of the copyright trap that is Project Gutenberg. Yes, having sung their praises, I’m now pointing out a flaw. They do give the copyright status of each work on the item page, usually ‘Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook.’. Now there’s the rub – and the thing that caught me out. Check the laws of your country! I was so delighted to find the lovely selection of PG Wodehouse books available on Gutenberg, that I never spared a thought for the fact that old Plum didn’t shuffle off until 1975. His works won’t be in the public domain in the UK until a whopping 2046. [yes, I did have to go on a big copyright-fact-checking mission to make sure that was right. and I'm still not entirely sure]
I’m sure this isn’t the only case where I’ve inadvertently infringed copyright through ebooks that are public domain in the US, but not the UK. I don’t usually remember to check. And if I, as an information professional who Really Should know better, don’t check, who does? Now, as far as I’m aware, publishers and authors don’t seem to be making an issue about this. I haven’t heard of anyone being threatened with court for illegal ownership of a text document, but just because you’re probably not going to get caught doesn’t mean it’s legal. [I'm sticking with the 'legal' argument here - my opinions on the state of current UK copyright law are for another discussion entirely.] I think we can all agree that it’s much harder to accidentally infringe copyright with pbooks – although I’m sure I’ve bought at least one book in the past with ‘not for UK distribution’ stamped on it…
What else don’t I like about ebooks? Well, they can hurt your eyes. I don’t have a dedicated ebook reader that produces the ink-on-paper effect, so I can’t speak for those, but I have spent many hours getting my settings right in the various programs I use.
Ah yes, ‘various programs’. Now there’s a thing! I have 6 dedicated ebook readers installed on my home pc, plus microsoft word (which I use where possible – it has a far better customisable reading view than any of the dedicated readers). Of course, you know what’s coming. You have to use the ‘correct’ reader for each ebook format. Adobe Digital Editions giving you a headache? (and trust me, they will) Tough. You want to change the font colour, you buy the book again. In a different format.
What else? well, there are the occasional OCR issues (I read an ebook once where ‘God’ was rendered as ‘Cod’ the whole way through. Nothing has cheered me up quite that much for years). You don’t always get illustrations, or maps. Fixed-length lines can be annoying. But these are minor quibbles, and pbooks have many of the same display issues – we’ve all read the cheap editions with tiny blurred text. And shoddy editing/proof-reading is no respecter of format.
I know I’ve skated over – or ignored entirely – what others might consider to me the most important issues, but I did say that this was going to be about me and my relationship with ebooks, and I must admit that I’ve written this primarily as a reader, not an information professional. This could be because, in my current role, I don’t really interact with ebooks professionally. Perhaps when I do, my feelings will change. But as a reader? yeah, I think I’m in love
This post on ReadWriteWeb (or, more accurately, the comments on this post) will probably pass into internet infamy (it’s already being hailed as a new meme). For those who don’t have the time to go read the whole thing, here’s a summary:
ReadWriteWeb (a blog about the web/web apps/new developments) posted an article about the Facebook/AOL partnership, entitled ‘Facebook wants to be your one true login’. It then started popping up when people did a search for ‘facebook login’. People blindly clicked the link, couldn’t find the login button for Facebook (rather *ahem* unsuprisingly), and started complaining about it in the comments.
And boy, did they complain! There were wailings, moaning, and gnashings of teeth. There were people begging and pleading to be let into their Facebook accounts; cursing and swearing and claiming that they would never, ever use Facebook again. Even after the article had been amended to include a large disclaimer saying ‘THIS IS NOT FACEBOOK’; even after the comments thread started filling up with regular RWW readers who pointed out (in a variety of helpful, witty, and sarcastic ways) that this was NOT FACEBOOK, they kept coming.
[For those sceptics who suspect a 4chan attack, or similar, RWW have stated that, according to thier site traffic, these users were being directed to them by a Google search for 'facebook login'. The post is still (at the time of writing) the number 2 Google result for 'Facebook login']
I can’t quite decide whether this whole thing is hilarious or depressing. Probably both. But as some of the commenters pointed out, it was an interesting collision of two worlds – the very web/tech savvy RWW community, and the, well, less-so…
This post highlights the enormous gaps we are facing in information and digital literacy, and I think it could be used as an effective tool for teaching information literacy. It’s something we all have to do, and, while most of the people we’re teaching will be starting from a higher-level than these poor, lost Facebook users, there are still lessons for everyone from it.
Firstly – and I really can’t stress this enough – LOOK at the webpage you’re on. RWW has a very different design to Facebook – should that be a hint? This is applicable to all situations. Your bank website look a bit different? Don’t just assume it’s a redesign – check.
Secondly, READ the webpage. If the commenters wanting Facebook had actually read the article, it would (should?) have been pretty clear to them that this was not Facebook. Ok, companies do sometimes post relatively lengthy news items on their front pages, so I’ll forgive the very first commenters for this. But after the disclaimer had been posted? 30 seconds of reading would have saved them a whole lot of trauma. This principle can be applied to all websites – if you don’t bother to read what’s there, you’ll have no idea a) if it’s really what you’re looking for b) if it’s not what you’re looking for, why not and c) what context the information you take from this page should be put in.
Thirdly, use the address bar. Not just for naviagting to sites, but for checking what site you’ve come to through search engines or links. Is it really Facebook? Does it say ‘facebook.com’? Is it really an academic website? Does it say .edu, or .ac.uk etc? The address bar is one of your best friends for a quick and dirty verification of a page’s credentials.
Fourthly, read what other people have written. Does the page have comments? Great! Read them! One of the great resources of the internet is the collective intelligence it can harness. Reading the comments that others have left can be a great way to determine whether this thing is right for you, whether it’s a new mobile phone or a degree course. Of course, you may have to wade through some spam and a load of trolls, but learning to recognise spam and trolls is also great practise in assessing the value of information. It’s a win-win – and it can save you being forever tarnished by the fact that you’ve left a 5 line comment about how much you hate the new facebook and just want to log in now please please please (linked, btw, to your facebook account, so everyone knows exactly who you are), when the previous 10 comments have all been variations on ‘lol, how stupid does anyone have to be to think this is really facebook’.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, don’t let Google do your thinking for you! This is an absolutely prime example of how people’s trust in Google has led them astray. They didn’t think. They didn’t analyse. Google says it, so it must be right. Well, Google was wrong. According to the RWW analysis of events, the RWW page was the top Google result, ahead of Facebook itself. RWW claims that ‘Google failed its users’. Well, maybe so. But the users also failed themselves, and we, as teachers and promotors and champions of information literacy need to take that to heart. Ok, so it’s not specifically our job to teach people to use Facebook (I would *love* to see that on a job description), but it is our job to get people across the digital divide without letting them fall to the sharks.
A hat-tip to @calire, for pointing me to the original post
This post from Library Thing’s Thingology blog has had me thinking this week about my relationship with ebooks.
- I love ebooks
- I hate ebooks
Yeah, I know – how totally uncontroversial. Doesn’t everyone have mixed feeling about ebooks? Does anyone love them unconditionally? Does anyone hate them with a rare and rabid passion? I suppose they must be out there…
So what do I love about ebooks? Well, first off, they’re books. They may not have all those fancy bits-of-paper-with-ink-on, but they contain words that tell stories. That’s good enough for me.
Secondly, they’re immediate. I’m a highly impatient person – I hate waiting for anything – and I’m completely hooked on the idea that if I want to read something *now*, I can. Ok, not everything is available as an ebook, but a suprising number are. Enought to keep me happy, anyway True, it might cost me a lot to read it, but that’s the price of indulgence. And…
… thirdly: so may ebooks are free! It’s almost impossible to say just how much I love Project Gutenberg. It’s a source of constant delight to me. So many books! For free! And I can do whatever I want with them! (within certain limits). What’s really important for me is that Gutenberg ebooks are platform independent. I generally choose to read them in Word if I’m on my pc, and my phone has some good text readers for me to Gutenberg on the go. In fact, Gutenberg are making their texts available in loads of formats, that can be read on almost any device.
But it’s not just Gutenberg – there are loads of good, free ebooks sites. I’m not going to go into details about that here (oh, you insist? ok ;p ), but I will give a shout-out to the Internet Archive texts collection. Sometimes, I really do like the experience of seeing the book in its original layout, rather than robbed of some of their character – as they can be – when they are reduced to just text, and formatted/fonted to your preference.
One of the things I love most about free ebooks is the serendipity involved. I don’t buy new books very often, and when I do, it’s usually by an author I know I’ll like. Most of my reading experimentation is done in the library or the charity shop. But with free ebooks, you get the freedom to try something just because you like the title. I subscribe to the Gutenberg new books rss, and I’ll go through and tag the ones I like the look of. Then when I’m bored – instant reading list!
I know you do get the same kind of low-risk serendipity in libraries, but not to the same extent – certainly not with most public libraries. They’ll have a collection development policy, which will necessarily limit what you will find. The ebooks sites don’t have that – the Internet Archive explicitly states ‘This collection is open to the community for the contribution of any type of text’. This naturally creates a greater diversity (within the bounds of public domain texts, of course) – nothing is excluded, nothing is weeded. Nothing is on loan with a 4-month reserve list!
Before I leave free ebooks, I must mention Distributed Proofreaders, who provide most of the books for Project Gutenberg. Anyone can sign up to start proofreading texts, which have been scanned and OCRd. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Well, it is! I don’t know why, but I really enjoy it. You can choose which books you work on – some really dedicated DPers work on things in miniscule columns full of Latin and Greek and obscure scientific formulae. I work mainly on children’s books, with about 100 words to the page
It’s incredibly satisfying to feel that you’ve been a part of preserving this knowledge, and enabling its dissemination. I also like spotting errors (*ahem* librarian *ahem*), and puzzling out what words might be based on the context. Oddly enough, reading a few random pages of a book can be absolutely fascinating. I don’t do as much with DP as I should, but when I do make the time I love it, and vow to do more.
This has turned into a bit of a monster post, so I’ll save the hate (grr!) for part 2 (which means I have to remember to write it). A few more quick ‘things I love’:
- Portability! Often mentioned, but the fact that I have about 100 hours of reading material on my phone – including War and Peace and 4 vols of Maupassant short stories – never fails to astound and delight me. And it’s always with me. I never used to leave the house without a paperback in my bag; now I’ll only take one for train journeys.
- The fact that I can read ebooks while eating (assuming, as I do, that I generally eat in front of my computer) without having to juggle food and book, or concoct elaborate book-proppy-open devices. It’s on the screen – it doesn’t move, or close, or get obscured by gravy. And one finger will turn a page.
- Left your book at home, and dying to spend lunchtime catching up with it? No problem! Just download another copy. This applies to most paid ebooks, as well as free ones – many (possibly all?) retailers allow multiple downloads of the same book. You may have to enter passwords or register a device ID, but you can get at it. And for those of us with story-addictions, that’s a great big plus.
Ok, that’s the love over. Ready for some hate? Part 2 will turn up some time after I get around to writing it
I’ve really been enjoying the food in libraries stories going around on twitter today. It takes me back to my graduate trainee days (because, umm, that’s the only time I’ve ever actually worked in a library), when John Rylands were rethinking their food and drink policy – at the time, bottled water only. It interested me at the time, and when I went on a presentation skills course, I chose to do my presentation on food and drink in the library.
Leaving aside the searing terror, and the issue of my presentation skills (I fidgeted too much, and wrote in all caps, which is apparently Bad Practice), the thing I remember most from the presentation is the anecdote I used to illustrate my conclusion. I’d been working in the library for all of about 3 months at this point, and I was happily walking back from the kitchen to our office, when I saw a student with a cup of coffee. I was on my way to say something to him, when I looked down at the mug of tea in my hand, and realised what a screaming hypocrite that would make me.
True, I was employed by the library. True, I was going to drink the tea in my office. But there was still a computer there, still plenty of damage I could have caused with a careless slip of the wrist. It’s not like ‘advanced beverage handling 101′ was part of my induction. This really made me rethink my initial response (no! no food! bad students!) into something more measured, more conciliatory (well, ok, then, that’s fine. Just be careful. and don’t take the piss! and do take your rubbish!).
And that’s the line that John Rylands took (I can claim absolutely no role whatsoever in that decision!). Their food and drink policy became ‘it’s your library, leave no trace‘, and I still think that it is a pretty sensible policy. It took a while for me to get used to seeing food and drink being blithely consumed under the watchful eye of librarians, but I got used to it, and have even drunk coffee in the stacks myself.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution – I’m sure current JRUL staff could tell you about a number of drawbacks! – but I think it’s a good way to educate the user about the consequences of their behaviour, rather than just forbidding them. And the library cafe serves good coffee, so overall? Benefits all round
ps my ambition is now to take a kettle to a library. and a toaster. and an electric coffee grinder. maybe a juicer? gadget lady forever!