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.