The universal library of enhanced e-books

On: October 16, 2009
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About Suzanne Schram
I am Suzanne Schram. I have a Bachelor degree in Literature and I have done the Master Book and Digital Media Studies, both in Leiden.


Kevin Kelly explains in his article Scan this book! a future in which it is possible to create a universal library. In this library all the existing books should be present in a digital form. For a long time this is a desire of humankind: to have all knowledge together in one place. In the past this desire could be realized, such was the case for the great library at Alexandria. This library held between 30 and 70 percent of all the existing books. But nowadays it is no longer possible to have all the books physically together in one place. But this is not all; what is more he wants all the books to connect to each other. “When books are deeply linked, you’ll be able to click on the title in any bibliography or any footnote and find the actual book referred to in the footnote. The books referenced in that book’s bibliography will themselves be available, and so you can hop through the library in the same way we hop through Web links, traveling from footnote to footnote to footnote until you reach the bottom of things.” In this essay I will discuss how his ideas are realized today.

The universal library of e-books

A problem Kelly mentions in this article is that the majority of books are unavailable to the public. He mentions that 15% of the books are out-of-copyright and are in the public-domain. 75% of the books are out-of-print. Only 10% of the books are in print; only these books are available in the bookstores. There are nowadays several possibilities of websites which offer a collection of digitized books. Such as Google Books, Project Gutenberg, DBNL: Digital bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse letteren. The Downside of Google is that they don’t show the books entirely. DBNL and Project Gutenberg contain free e-books which are in the public-domain, there is no copyright on the books anymore. There are also webstores which sell e-books such as and also on other webstores such as Amazon and Bol sell e-books. Bol also offers free e-books.

The enhanced e-book

But in these examples the books aren’t connected; the books remain isolated. Kelly says about the connected book: “The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages.” A truly large database of connected e-books doesn’t exist yet. But there are some projects heading in the right direction. There are e-books which aren’t isolated and fixed: the enhanced e-book. I found two definitions of enhanced e-books:

“Unlike regular e-books that are encrypted so the content can’t be removed, enhanced e-books content can be extracted and repurposed for use with a variety of digital formats. They give you the freedom to rotate pages, copy and paste the text of each page into multiple programs, or take a snapshot of a page and copy and paste the content as an image.”

“The May release of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice marks the debut of Penguin Group’s new line of “portable, green, and multi-faceted” Penguin Enhanced e-Book Classics. The initial title includes a filmography, contemporary book reviews, a chronology of Austen’s life and times; recipes, instructions on period dancing, social etiquette and how to prepare a tea; a literary tour of famous Austen sites; black-and-white illustrations of fashion, home décor and architecture; and more.”

The first kind of enhanced e-book provides the user to use the e-book. This definition is made by the educational publisher Evan-Moor. Their enhanced e-books are made for use in the class-room. The text form the e-book is easily to use for lessons, tests and PowerPoint presentations. The second kind is an e-book which is extended with extra information.

There is also an enhanced publication, this comes closer to the vision of Kelly:

An enhanced publication is a publication that is enriched with three categories of information: research data (evidence of the research), extra materials (to illustrate or clarify), post-publication data (commentaries, ranking)”

The journals Internet Archaeology and JALC: Journal of Archeology in the Low Countries publish enhanced publications in their journal. Not many journals enhance their articles. One reason is that it is a relatively new concept and another reason is because especially archeological articles are suited for enhancing. The reason why archeological articles are suited is because archeological research is accompanied by several other things beside texts such as a database of photographs of artifacts and a map of the place of the excavation.

There is a website which connects books. This is the Emblem Website of Glasgow University. An emblem book is an illustrated book. Such a book contains emblems which consist of three different parts, a motto, a picture and a poem. The website gives access to 27 digitized emblem books, both to transcribed and facsimile versions. All the books are extensively searchable; it is possible to search for words in the text, in the title and for the pictures. When you look at an emblem you see the transcription of the poem and the picture. The page provides a link to the actual page of the book, the emblem contains notes with possibly a link to other emblems, a list of related emblems, and a list of iconclass keywords relating both to the image and the text is placed on the page. For the study of emblems it is important to compare the emblems with each other; this is the reason why this website is made. So this website is a good example of a database of connected books.

The user-generated library

The examples of the enhanced e-books and the enhanced publications are enhanced by the producers but Kevin Kelly also sees potential in the connecting of books by the consumers themselves. He argues that digitizing books changes reading into a community activity. “Those with a passion for a special subject, obscure author or favorite book will, over time, link up its important parts. Multiply that simple generous act by millions of readers, and the universal library can be integrated in full, by fans for fans.” Besides the placing of a link he mentions that readers also can tag books. The aim of the tagging of books is according to Kelly to serve the readers better than out-of-date schemes such as the Dewey Decimal System because tagging is faster and has a wider range especially in the case of niche books. Kelly mentions some applications of reading as a community activity: the sharing of bookmarks, swapping of bibliographies, the sending of alerts when a friend has annotated a book of yours. An example of user-generated connecting of books is LibraryThing. This website provides the possibility for people to make a catalog of books which they have written. They can tag the books and fill in a form for each book with information like: important places, characters and important events. These assigned keywords connect different books to each other.

The conclusion is that the existing enhanced publications and enhanced e-books are enhanced because it is necessary. An educational book is enhanced in order that the teacher can easily make tests and lessons. Archeological articles are enhanced because the research of an archeologist contains al lot more information than just a text. Websites of connected emblem books are made to encourage research; since most emblematic studies have a comparative aim. However Kellly argues that every book should be connected. He gives four reasons why books should be interconnected: First, niche books will find a larger audience. Second the digital library will increase our understanding of history, since all knowledge is scanned and brought together. Third the universal library will lead to a new sense of authority since the knowledge on one particular subject is brought together; you can have a clear sense of what we as a civilization do and don’t know. I think that his vision of the future will be realized. The examples which I have mentioned in this essay earlier implemented the possibilities of the enhanced e-book because of a direct need.

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