E-Books and Academic Citations

story  Michael Betancourt, January 20, 2011 all rights reserved.


Here's a thought on why academics should be dreading the rise of the e-reader as textbook and reference work. It's really obvious, but I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere yet. Maybe academics just haven't tried using their readers for research yet....

Laura Miller laments the poor typeface choices available in e-readers in this salon article:

E-readers have already obliterated the careful choices designers make when deciding to set a novel in Minion or a history book in Caslon Old Face. As with Henry Ford's Model T (available in any color you want, as long as it's black), Kindle books are invariably set in PMN Caecilia. The Nook and iBook apps on my iPad offer a choice of five and six fonts, respectively, but on the off-chance that the designer of the print edition chooses one of these, the text will still be "flowed" onto its digital pages in an ad hoc fashion and sized according to my personal preferences.
But the real issue with these books is also apparent in her lamentation about the look of the publication: the pages are reflowed automatically by the device depending on what size the reader wants to make the type. That means the page numbers change, almost at random, making the citation process unreliable.

This inability to rely upon citations is a major concern for academic publications: when its impossible to be certain about a page citation, the ability to use the references with ebooks is compromised.

So what's the solution? I think the answer may lie with less-ebooky forms like the acrobat format (.pdf) where the page numbers are saved, but the ereader experience is less than optimal. I've been using my Kindle as a "portable filing cabinet" filled with .pdfs of my research, but no ebooks for exactly this reason. So if you're looking to use yours in the same ways, get the larger one--the bigger screen makes a big difference.

Copyright © Michael Betancourt  January 20, 2011  all rights reserved.

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