What are Electronic Books?

As the technology underlying electronic readers has improved and as more titles have become available, electronic books are quickly reaching the point where their advantages over the printed book are compelling to almost any observer. The convenience of carrying an entire library in a purse, pocket, or book bag appeals to readers who find time for a few pages in between appointments or while commuting. Already firmly established in the public sector, electronic books are gaining a foothold on campuses as well, where they serve as a cost-effective and portable alternative to heavy textbooks and supplemental reading selections. The availability of portable electronic reading devices like the recently announced Apple iPad, the Amazon Kindle, the Nook, the Sony Reader, and book-reader applications designed for iPhone and other mobiles has made it easy to carry a wide selection of reading material in a small package, with that material updated wirelessly as new content becomes available.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • Museum publication is very rarely cost effective and distribution is quite difficult to secure. Museums have been looking for alternative means to sell and distribute their collection/exhibition catalogs and other scholarly publications. While the Web offers one means of publication, it is still looked at as being less formal and academic in comparison to traditional print publication. Electronic books and print on demand (see additional topics) offer alternative means of within the boundaries of academic publication while taking advantage of the cost-effectiveness and flexibility of new technologies.
    The iPad, with its gesture-based interface, high quality color display and multimedia capabilities is likely to generate a new bread of museum specific e-books drawing upon the wide range of supporting media assets many institutions are beginning to collect and produce.
    The Elements - http://periodictable.com/ipad/ is an amazing example of how museum-grade content can take advantage of this new publishing platform. - scott.sayre scott.sayre May 2, 2010 Agreed - the iPad in particular brings the ability to display what I think of as museum-quality materials in an electronic reader format. - ninmah ninmah May 5, 2010
  • I tend to think the form factor of these devices is a bit too large to make them really attractive in the museum domain, but I remain quite intrigued by them. The idea that they might provide an outlet/alternative/complement to paper catalogues is compelling, and will be threatening to many in the field due to the perceived (real) instability of all electronic platforms and the museum's emphasis on preservability. Nevertheless, they can show pictures, moving and still, and words, and do sound, and so I'm interested. - john.weber john.weber May 4, 2010

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Electronic books are a combination of text and multimedia including video, 3d video, virtual environments, simulations, sounds and voice. Each of these elements can have multiple versions and perspectives, and can be enhanced and revised through the book's connectivity to the web. One way to visualize this concept is to imagine a a biology textbook where discussion of a the savanna biome includes a "figure" that is animated, interactive and modeled so that over time some user input changes might be made to it with the results indicated within the "figure". - mike.kelly mike.kelly May 2, 2010
  • another response here

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • Multimedia publishing is likely to begin to be a respected scholarly format now it can adhere more closely to the traditional print model. And while publication has traditionally been restricted to curators and conservators, the lower costs and broad distribution channels for e-books may provide greater opportunities for museum educators to generate more targeted, audience specific works. - scott.sayre scott.sayre May 2, 2010
  • I'm actually probably more interested in how they will affect academic publishing than in how they will impact the museum field.... - john.weber john.weber May 4, 2010

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

A related project is the Getty's Online Scholarly Catalogue research initiative http://www.getty.edu/foundation/funding/access/current/online_cataloging.html - scott.sayre scott.sayre May 2, 2010
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