Books in the Web Library
Tomaiuolo, Nicholas G., Searcher
How much time do you calculate people spend reading? Well, how many books do you read each year? How many books could or would you read if you had no financial or temporal constraints and could devote as much time as you desired to your avocation? Ten books? Fifty? Five hundred?
In October 1999, the Gallup News Service released the results of a poll asking these questions and tallying the responses of 1,698 Americans over the age of 18. The results showed that at least 84 percent of Americans had read "all or part" of one book during the previous year (and that number has stayed approximately the same for the past 20 years). Thirty percent of the public had read between one and five books, and 16 percent had read between six and 10 books; about 40 percent reported they had read more than 10 books in a year; and 7 percent read over 50 books in the past year [http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr991004b.asp].
Although individuals have many diversions open to them, on some of which they spend more time than ever before (television, Internet access, listening to music), according to the U.S. Census Bureau the reading habits of Americans remain steady. People have read about 100 hours a year for the last decade. The professional journalism magazine, Quill, distilled this information and stated that Americans spent 1,595 hours watching television in 1997 (or about 4.4 hours per day), but they read a book for only 17 minutes per day. Table one at right, derived from the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2000, illustrates book reading compared with other types of leisure time activity preferences.
Readers concerned that they don't read enough should consider that, even with all the great literature in the world at hand, it would be difficult to tackle even the tip of the iceberg. A few years ago, when the Modern Library [http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100best/novels.html] issued its Board's decision on the Top 100 Novels since 1900, led by James Joyce's Ulysses, many readers took exception with the list. But while browsing the online bookstore Amazon.com one day, I noticed a comment on the Modern Library's list made by novelist, essayist, and travel writer Paul Theroux (The Mosquito Coast, The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific, Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents, and others) that put the argument into perspective. Theroux wrote, "There is a lot of talk about books. This is often a silly and philistine activity. Much better to read the books -- not the 'Top 100' as listed by a lot of old buffers, but the top 10,000." Theroux's comment is also relevant to the vas tness of the reading material that is all around us.
Suppose that you had unlimited time to read. Suppose your goal is not only to divert yourself but also to expand your intellectual reach. Think about the great masterpieces of literature you may have already read. If you are like many people, you probably have already had a taste of Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, and perhaps Kafka, Poe, and Zola. What about the other classicists and classics you've yet to become familiar with? Plato, Homer, the Bhagavad-Gita, and Gulliver's Travels? Again, with all the time in the world available to you, you may want to begin with best literature available. How much would it cost to stock your personal library with the world's most enduring works?
How Much (Money) People Spend on Reading
Financial figures from companies like Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and Borders demonstrate that people buy plenty of books. Having done more than $2.5 billion in sales in the year 2000, Amazon.com is one of the biggest players in electronic commerce. Most people who use computers know that Amazon sells more than books these days. But back in its infancy in 1996 and 1997, Amazon was still doing a very brisk business, based chiefly on online book sales. In 1996 its sales hovered around $12 million, but by 1997, sales had shot up to $118 million! Borders Books, a retail bookstore chain based in Michigan, presently sells about $3 million in merchandise. In February 2001, Barnes and Noble, Inc. reported over $1 billion in sales. Its online counterpart (barnesandnoble.com) reported sales of $320 million. The U.S. Statistical Abstract shows that individuals spend about $85 each per year on books, and those dollars add up to big sales for book retailers and book publishers. (The projected expenditure for books in 20 03 is $107 per person.) Table 2 above shows that book buying ranks third in the recreational spending, with only television and home video outpacing it.
In the U.S., wise consumers often visit their libraries to borrow the books they might otherwise purchase. In interpreting the government's figures for consumer book spending, we should bear in mind that public, academic, school, and special libraries spend about $2 billion a year on books. Libraries serving populations of over 500,000 (e.g., cities about the size of Atlanta or Cleveland) spend an average of about $1.3 million on adult books; of that amount $168,000 goes to popular fiction and another $78,000 for mysteries. Incidentally, libraries spend most of their money on current titles -- less than 10 percent is spent on replacement copies. While that is not surprising, it may affect whether a copy of something that is less than "in vogue" is available at the library.
If Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and dozens of other companies run Web sites and sell books, why do enterprises that distribute free e-texts, such as Project Gutenberg, the text collection at the Internet Public Library, and Bartley's "Great Books Online" continue to expand and attract users? What are the philosophies, mechanics, and rules that prevail in these electronic text Web sites? How do the creators of these sites assess the value of what they offer?
Traditional Books, Electronic Texts, and Electronic Books
First, some definitions. The important items under discussion are electronic texts (or e-texts or e-texts) and electronic books (or e-books or e-books). For most purposes, electronic texts can be equated to words written on a page of indeterminate length. E-texts usually lack any conspicuous formatting and, therefore, could be presented in plain ASCII -- simple text that any computer can understand -- or may be formatted in hypertext markup language (HTML) to appear more "Web friendly." See page 32 to compare the ASCII text in Figure 1 with the HTML in Figure 2.
Electronic books are "virtual" representations of printed books. Individuals need special software (e-book reader software such as Acrobat eBook Reader, Microsoft Reader) and, if desired, special hardware (i.e., portable, book-sized or smaller devices] to use e-books. The University of Virginia's E-Book Library [http://etext.lib.vir ginia.edu/ebooks/ebooklist.html] is a prime example of an electronic book archive; 1,600 titles out of its total collection are e-books that can be read by the Microsoft Reader software for PC computers or AportisDoc software for Palm handhelds (see figures 3 and 4 on page 32).
Many e-texts are served up as PDF documents. An acronym for Portable Document File, these texts are flexible because they can be used independent of the hardware, software, or operating systems used to create them. For individuals using online books, PDF files are great because the files can be searched easily. You can download a free version of Abode Acrobat (the software needed to read PDFs) at http://www.adobe.com.
Yet another format for e-texts is called "embedded image." When you view an e-text in the embedded image format, you usually see a representation of the text offered as an image file (i.e., a graphic file). An e-text in the embedded image format may look more like the printed page of books familiar to readers (see Figure 5 on page 32).
The providers of many electronic books and electronic texts might argue that, in terms of the actual text of any given book, there is no difference between the physical book or an e-book/e-text. Others would argue that there is a tactile, visceral, and even sensual dimension to a physical book that electronic books and electronic texts can never duplicate.
Online E-Text Collections: Cornerstone of Your Own Web Library
While a skilled searcher has a good chance of finding the electronic text of a book, short story, poem, or play by skillfully using relatively comprehensive finding tools such as Google [http://www.google.com], a more organized plan for developing the literary and nonfiction portion of your own Web library would lead you to the online text resources available on the Web. Once you are familiar with the history, scope, and usability of about a dozen online text libraries, you can "adopt" them; then you'll have the resources of some of the Web's heaviest hitters right at your fingertips (and at the desktop of your computer).
What's Available Online
So everyone wants access to free, first-rate books electronically. But what types of texts are Web sites likely to have for us? Web sites will give away uncopyrighted texts and, if authors have given permission, a few copyrighted works. Some commercial Web sites give away copyrighted texts as promotional incentives to readers. Some self-publishing writers might give away their electronic books to whet your appetite. Many Web sites provide free electronic texts. One of the first things the reader may notice, however, is that the vast majority of the items at these sites are "old." This, however, does not make the electronic texts any less valuable. To understand why you won't see any …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Books in the Web Library. Contributors: Tomaiuolo, Nicholas G. - Author. Magazine title: Searcher. Volume: 10. Issue: 4 Publication date: April 2002. Page number: 28+. © 1999 Information Today, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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