10.0369 real books (part 2 of 2)

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 28 Oct 1996 22:02:53 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 369.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Ron Tetreault <tetro@is.dal.ca> (33)
Subject: Books real and virtual

[2] From: "Amsler, Robert" <amsler@usmd1.dyniet.com> (58)
Subject: RE: 10.0360 books real and virtual

Date: Mon, 28 Oct 1996 08:54:19 -0500
From: Ron Tetreault <tetro@is.dal.ca>
Subject: Books real and virtual

I admire Greg Lessard's chutzpah in speaking so forthrightly in favour of
the computerized book, though I suspect he was pulling our virtual leg.
Willard, however, has raised some serious issues about the distinction
between real and virtual texts.

Though a dedicated e-book maker, I'd give odds on the survival of print
media. Books are portable, comparatively cheap, and usable by people all
over the world. In these discussions, we always need to remind ourselves
that we're not obliged to place books and e-texts in competition. Instead
I prefer to emphasize the differing strengths of each.

Yes, as Pamela Cohen points out, books and print are the medium of
permanent record, and are likely to remain so. But it is precisely the
infinite revisibility of a text in the electronic medium that gives it a
capacity for growth and development that the book does not offer. Digital
media only justify themselves when they do things that cannot be done any
other way, so that if I make an e-text it is not to replace the book but to
give the text a dimension it does not have in print. The stasis of print
is valuable for some purposes, but the dynamism of electronic texts
produces an almost living, organic effect whose consequences we are only
beginning to realize. Even so basic a function as searching gives the
e-text an aura of animation, and WWW hypertext links offer a glimpse of Ted
Nelson's "docuverse" as a living organism, evolving and interdependent.

Let me be so bold as to propose something I'll call the Tetreault test: If
you can print out an e-text without losing something vital, it wasn't worth
electrifying in the first place.


+ Ronald Tetreault Tel: (902) 494-3494 +
+ Department of English Fax: (902) 494-2176 +
+ Dalhousie University Home Fax: (902) 453-4786 +
+ Halifax, Nova Scotia e-mail: tetro@is.dal.ca +
+ B3H 3J5 CANADA or Ronald.Tetreault@Dal.Ca +
+ http://is.dal.ca/~tetro/home/welcome.html +
+ learning by the (cyber)sea +

Date: Fri, 25 Oct 1996 16:05:47 -0400
From: "Amsler, Robert" <amsler@usmd1.dyniet.com>
Subject: RE: 10.0360 books real and virtual

I wanted to mention something that I heard from a colleague. Their graduate
students are printing them out of house and home, downloading so much
information over the web and printing it out on their grants and contracts
that it is costing their projects too much for the paper, toner, etc.

I believe this is the tip of a new iceberg. The publishing world has at its
disposal a new tool that permits them to pass the cost of printing on to
the consumer. I believe the whole equation may change. Journals, as
middlemen, never did pay their authors; in fact, I remember cases where they
charged my company for the pages of my article that they were publishing.
So, authors are distributing things without journals.

How this will affect libraries is an interesting issue. On the one hand,
libraries currently have the paper budget to buy books and journals for the
whole university, so to speak. Departments may decide this isn't working out
too well as they now have more things to acquire directly and they have to
pay to print them; so they may want some of that budget back--then too,
departments are notoriously bad at keeping their literature organized, so
they may want to pass the printed Web pages off to the library for
cataloguing, storage and access. Some departments might decide that the
library should be the ones to download the materials directly--i.e., by
recommending web sites the way they now recommend journals. Then the
library would be the one to monitor the sites for new publications.
Certainly the ephemeral nature of Web files, posted by research groups,
directly by the authors, by organizations of all types, screams out for
someone to capture and preserve these things before they are deleted by
their owners and become irretrievable suddenly.

The issue of paper vs. electronic storage is also there. So far, NOBODY has
told me they like to read large documents on the Web. This tends to say that
while students may be forced to read things online, they will want the
option to print them out, and may even be willing to pay for that (if they
can afford it). The question of what happens when professors assign students
to do Web-based research for a project seem to come up. If a whole class
full of students needed access at one time; or toward the end of semester
entire sets of classes were trying to complete reports to turn in by
accessing the Web for their research--the demands on numbers of terminals
available at one time would be quite high. I.e. libraries started with the
terminals being the INDEX, used for a time to get references which were then
tracked down in the real library; then terminals became an augmentation to
the library for newspaper and other short articles; but now the prospect
looms of the Web as the SECOND LIBRARY--one in which students and faculty
will want to download (i.e. borrow) much larger articles and documents--or,
less likely, stay in front of the terminal for the whole time while they
read them; i.e. terminals will have to be as plentiful as chairs in the
library or as visitors to the library building.

Libraries can blunt the cost of having ample printers, administering the
cost of printing, etc. by offering downloading and pushing the cost of
printing off to the student's home computer; OR go into the printing role
more actively by providing bigger and less expensive per page printing
equipment to try and keep printing costs down (though equipment and
operational costs would go up).

Universities faced with the Web as an essential part of education may have
to resort to university web access facilities--far more extensive than
existing computer labs, probably featuring less expensive Web computer
terminals, intended largely just to provide access to Web pages, printing,
etc. and no "computing" as we now use the term to refer to word processing,
spreadsheets, database access, etc.

These times they are a changing...

Robert A. Amsler
Computational Linguist