A long time ago…

Xeroxed study packs

Xeroxed study packs from the early 1990s

Back in the 1980s, there were no iPads or Kindles, nor E-books, nor even PDFs. But in most Universities there were lots of photocopiers, so course tutors would prepare photocopied booklets of key set texts, staple them together between brightly-coloured card, and issue them to students at the start of term (sometimes for a small fee, to cover the cost of paper and toner). As long as everyone stayed the right side of the CLA, it was a relatively cheap and convenient way to make sure students had access to core texts, without having to buy or locate a large number books or journals themselves.

It is 2012 and we now have iPads and affordable E-book readers. Yet still piles of photocopied course booklets are a common sight on campuses. The contents of the booklets range from anthologies of fiction and criticism, in the humanities, to case studies and research, in the social and natural sciences.

What if tutors had an easy way to create such booklets and packages as E-books, rather than physical objects? Some courses do issue PDFs of scanned texts, via email or VLEs, but these are typically sent as individual articles, and often only scanned images of the text, offering no support for searching or indexing the article.

The open EPUB standard, and the increasing standardisation of E-books, offer a natural, and highly functional, successor to the scanned booklet, and to the ‘dumb’ images in scanned PDFs. With the growing availability of full-text Open Access and public domain items, in Institutional Repositories and other online systems, there is an opportunity to use such items as the raw materials of course study packs, providing greater accessibility and usability of texts, as well as promoting use of OA materials

This is the essence of the Anthologizr project: to develop a demonstrator repository system in which users can take an arbitrary selection items (text or images), and export them – ‘one-click’ style – as a viable, usable E-book anthology in EPUB format, for individual use, or for sharing with students by email or in VLEs.

There will be lots of challenges on the way, but this is where it begins.

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3 thoughts on “A long time ago…

  1. Thanks for the post, and getting this project funded as I think the problem you are trying to solve will help showcase that ebooks can be valuable rather than just for fiction reading. When you consider that many of the books/readings on a reading list are available digitally then it is a small leap to give learners the option of a digital reading list… then you have suggested a further step to actually collect everything together.

    What I would then next find interesting is what can we do that is \’unique to digital\’ with this type of ebook? For example I can imagine a talking head at the start of the collection that provides additional context to the ebook. Beyond this perhaps stats could be kept to see what readings are popular and annotations, comments, learner provided contributions to the ebook etc…. I think there is great potential to not only solve problems we face now but to shape what digital publishing can be. This evolution will be more than copying the print contexts and hopefully break onto a new path.

  2. Hi Zak. Thanks for commenting.

    One ‘unique to digital’ idea that I have been kicking around is (briefly) as follows:

    EPUB3 supports HTML5 content. HTML5 includes support for an SQL engine. Therefore it seems feasible that, in an e-book, data tables in a typical article might actually be the results of dynamic queries on an embedded dataset – instead of being manually and statically typeset.

    When an ebook user clicks on an image, typically the image zooms. So we might consider offering the equivalent of ‘zooming’ for data: when the user clicks on a table or graph, the ebook ‘zooms’ to a query wizard, offering dynamic querying tools to further explore the underlying data.

    Is that the kind of thing you are thinking of?

    • Hi

      Yes that is the type of new use case i am thinking of and have already seen that example in HTML5 though not within an epub – guessing it should work now for tablets maybe. What also excites me is the new stuff I haven’t even thought of!

      I will follow the project with interest.

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