notes from digital textuality seminar in Bergen (day 2)

Today’s seminar includes a talk by Terje Hillesund on e-books and open access (“Web browsers are designed for browsing, not for reading!”), Claire BÈlisle about how the materiality of books affects our conception of text and reading, and looking at how we can think about reading digital documents and Ludovic Frobert and Serge Heiden talking about their annotated, critical, online edition of a newspaper published by factory workers in 1831.

Terje Hillesund: Do we need open e-book readers?

Demonstrates Adobe reader (really for print), Microsoft Reader (can change font size, for instance, which then also changes page numbers — made for reading on small screen.

E-book situation: very low sales, few investments. Little use of free ebooks in libraries. Some problems are ergonomic – eyestrain, poor screens. Another problem: software not optimised for screen reading. Most readers actually developed for print or for text creation rather than for reading. Web browsers are for browsing, not for reading. Also a chaos of different non-compatible formats. At least 20 different formats, all proprietory, usually connected to one OS or reading device. Also very strong copy protection systems, can’t read your book on a different device, can’t lend or give away ebooks.

Preservation formats (txt, xml/tei, (pdf) and presentation formats (txt, doc, pdf, html, lit, (xml/tei) — among these, lit is the only reading format.

Writing became digital (word processing) first, then desktop publishing, but always for print. Web appeared but still stuck in print mindset. Even HTML made on principle of print (though (X)HTML/CSS separates content from presentation the way that is necessary for reading on screen).

Open eBook Forum: 90s, aim to develop open ebook standards. Unfortunately leaders are Adobe, Microsoft etc. They developed a fairly decent thing, based on XHTML and CSS; using DTDs, but Microsoft, for instance, while kind of using the system, then “build ebook” in their publishing system wraps all hte open stuff up in proprietory Microsoft codes leaving you with an opaque result that can’t be read on any system but Microsoft’s. Back to the beginning.

How to make it really open? Forget about print. Use XML. Software that’s meant for reading, not browsing or production of text. Also need adaptability, accessability, can present international glyphs. etc.

–> The open ebook forum didn’t fulfill their promise, but a new consortium, the Open Reader Consortium, and maybe — hopefully — they will succeed.

Claire BÈlisle: Reading digital documents

Original question: What do we know about reading, users and uses of digital documents/libraries by researchers? But difficult to find much. Mostly ergonomic studies.

Until recently, we have not understood how important printing is for our conceptions of text and reading. Materiality affects meaning. Will in the following talk about digital reading but will simply use the word “reading” when she means digital reading.

Ebook presentation interesting, particular in how Terje showed how ebooks were trying to bring printing norms into the digital world. Dominant representation of reading: printed book. Compare everything digital to paper. Ebooks brought back the page format, chunking down text into pages and providing a reading rhythm we didn’t have when scrolling.

BÈlisle and her team di a survey in 2001 and 2002, gave the Cytal ebook reader with fiction to people in public libraries and interviewed them after 14 days. People missed “the feeling of paper” and the fact that they didn’t have to turn the page. That is what gave them the feeling of progress in reading, and without page-turning they didn’t have a hold of their reading experience, didn’t know how far they’d got.

Our reading experiences are largely paper-based. When you ask readers what they want, they want it to be like paper. Sometimes readers don’t even think they’ve read something unless they’ve read it on paper.

However, the digital paradigm is coming through in readers. There are people who are beginning to be able to name new activities they are doing on the screen, also talking about reading not primarily referred to the paper paradigm. Digital devices –> more infromation, but also access to different kinds of information. E.g. not just the articles but also catalogues, raw data, even in real time (what the European space station is reporting right now), machine translation of a Japanese text, not perfect but still somethign, not the same as if you were really reading Japanese but still reading.

So more people have access to the data –> easier to engage in research rather than just reading about it.

Reading for research: extensive first, then intensive of the most relevant bits. With paper you could imagine you had an almost complete overview of your area. Impossible now. You can only expect not to have overlooked the most important elements. Used to imply reading full length texts of selected corpuses. Only accepted reading was full length reading. Now must deal with much of the material in a different way, for instance using tables of contents, encyclopedias, summaries, key words, search engines, translators etc. Doesn’t mean we no longer read full length texts, but that’s no longer the only way of reading.

Sven Birkerts, the interiority of text, typical Western printed book experience, he argues. He sees digital reading as surface oriented, faster. Similar conflict in 19th century, people started reading faster, therefore not real. (my note: see Birkert repents)

Reading vs content handling: intentional reading vs functional reading.
We have to expand our understanding of reading to include these new kinds of reading. We have privileged intentional reading, that is, reading for a reading experience, for an emotional experience, aesthetic experience, over functional reading (reading a thermometer, a users manual). When we think of reading we think of in depth, solitary reading. That’s because we are stuck in the idea of books. We need to rethink this: using a search engine is also reading.

The division of text into paragraphs, use of italics, use of indented text, titles, subtitles, existed before print but became organised and consistent through print. These things bring out internal structure of the text and we’re used to this to the extent that we’re not even really aware of how these presentational cues aid our reading. We need to find other ways in which we read, cognitive things, things that researchers do that could be on the screen in presentation like paragraphs, indents etc, but that are not. We should think about what such things might be in digital reading.

New reading “contracts” — what are you to expect? (Book gives lots of cues: this is the author, the publisher, the year published, the authority etc)

Challenges for trailblazers: Need to deconstruct the reading concept, construct new reception schemas (e.g. ebook users in survey, once familiar with the ebook, wanted NEW features, like more information, like dictionaries, like internet access, so what do we want with digital reading?) etc.

The future of reading:

  • Viewing and manipulating data and multimedia and not only texts.
  • Reading as instrumented interaction with texts. Content structure available, augmented (Engelbart) in-depth reading, tools, visualisation tools, search, annotation.
  • Challenge: Produce digital texts that are more easily read online than on printer paper. What are scholar’s needs and interests? Learner’s needs and interests? What will develop use of avaialble digital texts and libraries for these readers?

Question from Stephen: What about annotations? People want to appropriate texts!! (my note: see Cathy Marshall’s work.
Comment from Ludovic: But what about physicality!?

Ludovic Frobert and Serge Heiden: Editing XIXth century workersí magazines during the Juillet Monarchy: on-line publishing of Lí…cho de la Fabrique

L’Echo de la Fabrique: Newspaper text from 1831 revolution. About 150 weekly issues of this newspaper, now being put online weekly – printed by workers and “chefs d’ateliers” of a silk factory in Lyons.

They use DjVu (pronouced digi-view by some here and deja vu by others) for presentation of scanned images. Disadvantage: you have to install a special plugin. Advantage: Small file size.

So it’s presented both in text and you can see the facsimiles in the DiVu format. They also have RSS feeds which is rather nice.

They use Lodel to publish this – Lodel is a French system that translates documents from a wordprocessor with styles to web using php, mysql etc. Also demonstrated more complex research tools, like complex search and linguistic statistics.

27. May 2005 by Jill
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  1. Pingback: OpenReader potential noted at academic conference in Norway - TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond

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