Electronic Books

Article excerpt

"Will e-books change the world?" asks Terje Hillesund in an article in the electronic journal First Monday. Hillesund points out that "information technology and especially the Internet have profoundly changed the ways of publishing." For a number of years, we have had electronic versions of magazines and newspapers; we also have electronic journals like First Monday for which there is no print equivalent. Recently, the book publishing industry has started to catch up, making digitized texts--including multimedia texts--available for sale through online bookstores, and in some cases, available for free downloading. Some of the titles will be attractive to school libraries. But will these electronic books change our world? Hillesund himself says that "e-book technology has a long way to go before it can equal the readability and richness of traditional books" (Hillesund, 2001). "Nevertheless," he continues, "e-books have characteristics that in some ways supersede those of traditional books, being more flexible and accessible than paper books will ever be. E-books are a new, self-contained medium that will have an enormous impact in time on society." In light of this statement, it seemed appropriate to look at electronic books from the perspective of the school library and school library users.


The first thing that is dear is that the electronic book scene is enormously varied. Different people mean different things when they use the term "electronic book." Additionally, many different types of electronic books are available, some of which are designed to be distributed electronically but printed out for reading, while others are intended to be distributed electronically and read on a computer or on a specially designed e-book reader. The following are just some of the formats available:

* E-books on CD-ROM that require a computer and CD-ROM drive for access, or if the CD-ROM drive is on a network, a computer with network access. Books are read on the screen and most can be printed, though usually page by page and with loss of multimedia features.

* Downloadable e-books available free or for a fee via the Internet. They are usually available in formats like PDF, and can be read on the computer screen using standard software like Acrobat or printed for reading.

* Downloadable e-books available free or for a fee in formats that require special e-book reader software on the user's computer. This software can be downloaded from the e-book site, usually at the time the e-book is downloaded.

* E-books that require a dedicated e-book reader, that is, a special portable hardware device with a high-resolution screen and special capabilities for book reading. The e-book is downloaded to the e-book reader and is read on this device. Some libraries that lend e-books also lend the readers.


Electronic books have some advantages over printed books, such as settings and particular purposes. Reference books in e-book format, for example, usually have fairly short articles that can be displayed on a few screens, and reading at a computer monitor is acceptable to most users under these conditions. The reference book's own search engine will usually provide convenient access. Depending on the license conditions, several users may be able to access a reference book in electronic format at one time, and if the electronic book is available on the school's network, they do not even have to come to the school library to access it. For young users, the inclusion of sound files and still and moving images can make all kinds of information books more attractive and engaging. The availability of collections of free electronic books that are suitable for young people may help to ensure access to a greater range of titles than the library can provide in print form.

Johnson (2004) points to some other advantages of e-books: "Paper books disintegrate. …