Saturday, October 15, 2005

What is a book? (I think we're eventually going to question everything there is in a library, or anything related to information - whatever that is!) So in class yesterday we came up with a huge list of all the parts and components of a book.

Just some are: cover, pages, index, margins, page numbers, illustrations, captions, blurbs, notes, parts, chapters, paragraphs, sentences, words, characters, punctuation, spaces, white space, spine glue, footnotes, endnotes, price, colophon, fonts, signature, pulisher, indentation, block quotes, title, foreward, preface, dedication, table of contents, title page, verso, epilogue, and on and on and on!

We came up with a list of almost 70 items that make up a book. Then we separated them all into categories: things that are part of the structure of the book, things that are the content, and things that are metadata. When we were done, the amazing thing is the majority of that stuff was structure! Content had the smallest share. Obviously when you look at a book it's all content - or all you really see is content.

How many of us are aware of spaces and indents and page numbers and capitalization in a book? What all this means is that structure in a book is really important. We need all that structure to help us use the book, to help us navigate and find things. It is difficult to use a book without these structural pieces. Can you imagine readingsomethingwithoutanyspacesorpunctuationorcapitalization? Or reading a book without page numbers or chapters?

Now, as we looked at all these parts, we realized that only about three or four things had been created in the past few years (barcodes, ISBN, etc). Everything else has been around for a long time. And those things that are new have to do with metadata and structure - not content. Content has not been evolving, structure has!

One way it has been evolving of course is into ebooks. I just looked at my first ebook yesterday. It is an interesting idea, but it doesn't seem to have caught on quite yet. (Although many large universities have subscriptions with ebook vendors.) What I'm wondering is, why are ebooks trying to look so much like physical books? True they don't seem to have page numbers - but I think the book I looked at had the title page, running headers, white space, indents, most of the same stuff. They even had that blank page you have on the opposite side of the title page. You know why it's blank in a book, but online? They had to have a phrase on the page "this page left intentionally blank." Why have the page at all!?
People are in love with the idea of the book and many are struggling with the idea of an electronic book. Ebook people are trying to make ebooks look just like 'real' books, or as close as possible.

My feelings? You can't compare them. All the structure you have with a physical book is needed to help you read it. A website or online book is a different creature. It's just never going to look or act like a "real" book. Ebook publishers need to create their own structure for what a book looks like and how you read it online. I don't have any ideas on this... yet.


Anna Dunford said...

(see someone is still reading =))

You can't (safely!) read an ebook in the bath, curl up in bed with one or even comfortably on the sofa, they might be easier to read under the covers after lights are out but how many kids have laptops?! (not sure I want to know actually - might be scarily many...)

I know librarians must shudder to think of the effect of the damp but to me there is a certain class of 'bath book', kind of like you get airport novels - the sort that you wouldn't get too upset if you dropped it in the water - ie not first editions, fancy hardbacks or books you want to keep forever.

Ebooks have a future I'm sure, especially for the visually impared, but I can't see them ever replacing the real thing unless we have one helluva paper shortage.

Hang in there!
love & light
Anna x

Aimee said...

Visual impairment is indeed one of the reasons for ebooks. Also, people who don't have good motor skills - much easier to just hit a button than turn a page.

But I think you're right - paper books aren't going away any time soon!

Jess said...

My school has a large ebook database, and i love it. Why you ask? My school has a small library and a limited budget, often the book isnt there or it is checked out, with the time frame given for doing research and ebook is perfect. There is a network of librarys that share the same database and multiple users can look at the same book at once. It makes sense in this situtuation. and i have curled up with my laptop some nights to read. There are a few publisher sights out there that put new books online and hope that by reading the author online and liking them they might then help to sell more books. And so far their gamble has worked. It is a marketing ploy of course. Read a book, like it, buy the hardcopy for yourself or a friend, because of course everyone knows that real books are somehow more comforting.

Question: Where do audio books fall into all of this?

Aimee said...

Audio books... We haven't really talked about them. I have a feeling they aren't a big part of the market, more of a special interest item.