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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

EBOOKS EVERYWHERE: The Digital Transformation of Reading

Ebooks are everywhere today - millions of them, actually - and so many of them are free. Think of all of the government documents, research reports, free PubMed and other sources for articles. Then think of all of the online reference books and materials you can get in libraries. And let's not forget the wonderful efforts of Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive. And, then, of course, there is Google - can't forget their role in all of this. Through Google Books, we have the ability to search through the fulltext of hundreds of thousands (or more) books and find just the information that you need. No more having to rely on indexes or leafing through the pages of books hoping to find some little bit of information that seems elusive. Not any more!

As Harvard's Dean of Libraries, Robert Darnton notes: "Through technological wizardry and sheer audacity, Google has shown how we can transform the intellectual riches of our libraries, books lying inert and underused on shelves."

He also suggests that we need to find a way to make these truly and forever a public good: "But only a digital public library will provide readers with what they require to face the challenges of the 21st century - a vast collection of resources that can be tapped, free of charge, by anyone, anywhere, at any time."

Whether you are a Kindle fan, a Nook user or even if you prefer your existing PDA or PC, ebooks are a major step forward. Making these available to all the people for all time is the obligation that libraries have taken on. Check out what your library is doing to support and provide these key resources - you might be surprised.

For example, here at the University of Minnesota, a team led by Jim Stemper came up with a wonderful way to link vital information on our ebook collections for our users. The complexity is a bit mind-boggling - but that's another story.

For a look at where libraries are with ebooks today, check out a recent article I wrote for the July/August 2011 issue of SEARCHER magazine titled "Ebooks Everywhere."

Are you aware of all of the digital reading that you do each day? The printed page won't be going away anytime soon, but for information and quick access to facts and information, the ebook can't be beat!

Google Scholar Citations: "A simple way for scholars to keep track of citations to their articles"

Google made a very interesting announcement last week about a stunning new feature for their Google Scholar product. Google Scholar Citations provides a platform for authors to create their own identity and manage their citations - with the ability to link to co-authors and create clearly laid-out graphics of citation impact by various indices for individual articles or for the corpus of someone's career.

I was lucky to get to write about this for Information Today's Newsbreaks, which gave me the chance to talk with a lot of very interesting people and get their ideas and initial reactions to the system. As I noted in the article, with Google Scholar, we now have joined the "motherlode of scholarly citation data, across the entire range of disciplines, available for author profiling and more sophisticated analysis and relevance linking." This is a game-changer and, along with Microsoft's entry into the area, leaves Elsevier's Scopus and Thomsen Reuters' Web of Science having to play some serious catch-up.

One of my concerns in writing this was the status and intention of Google in creating this - how this links to the professed realignment towards protecting shareholder interests and company value that Larry Page spoke about at the same time this product was released.

I don't think I'm jaded, but as someone who attended computer trade shows nearly 30 years ago when the PC was launched, I'm feeling some degree of deja vu. Back then everyone wanted to avoid any support for the big bad "Big Blue," IBM, that controlled the computer industry (pre-PC); preferring instead to support the operating system and products of a young company composed of computer geeks based in Redmond, WA. Within a decade, the tables had turned on those assumptions as Microsoft grew to be an immense power with many of the same traits developers abhorred in IBM.

Can we assume that Google will continue its benign product development and 'do no evil' mantra? Will Microsoft's product give them some competition? With Scopus and WoS be able to forge a path to remain viable? Time will tell. Your thoughts?