Literature Review

Divakar, P. (2012). From Plato to Michael Hart: The Long Journey of E-books. DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology, 32, 109-15. Retrieved from Library Literature and Information Science Index/Full-text.

Divakar highlights the important features of e-books and asserts their superiority in terms of “storage, transfer, deliverability, and accessibility.” He gives a broad overview of the impact of their arrival, and argues that in a developing country like India, e-books can help achieve 100% literacy.

Despite their potential, Divakar lists major drawbacks to current technology. Readers of e-books are more prone to eye-strain, find e-books difficult to navigate and are frustrated by the interoperability of e-readers. This last point, he argues, is, “critical to library management and to the future success of e-books.”

Divakar predicts that publishers will find new business models by creating born digital content, rather than converting tradition books to a digital format, and by shucking old assumptions about the length of specific genres. He also sees new social models for readers who will be able to join virtual book clubs upon buying a certain title.

While his article is primarily geared towards Indian policy-makers, I find use in his reference to how e-books can evolve to promote social reading and literacy. I also find his broad portrait of all the scholars contributing to the e-book debate quite helpful.

Crestani, F., Landoni, M. and Melucci, M. (2006) Appearance and functionality of electronic books: Lessons from the Visual Book and Hyper-TextBook projects. International Journal of Digital Libraries, 6, 192-209. Retrieved from DOI: 10.1007/s00799-004-0113-9.

Crestani et al. take a close look at the needs of the readers by looking at two projects that explored different aspects of e-books– visualization and hypertext.

Although several years out of date, I believe Crestani et al.’s approach to understanding how print books translate into e-books is valid, particularly in the realm of the academic press. They argue that not all texts should be available digitally and discuss the criteria for “translating” print into digital text. They also create a spectrum for classifying ebooks, ranging from the page-turners that closely resemble their print counterparts to the cyberbook that is “completely free from any physical/conceptual dependence on the paper book…”

This article defines the purpose of a Visual Book as focusing on “… the book’s appearance, interpreted as a way of conveying the cognitive background the reader already has. Book functionalities are studied in relation to the book’s real use, so information is presented in a natural and familiar way, and at the same time the reader’s activities are supported in a comfortable environment.” This implies that readers expect to use similar skills to traditional reading, and may not expect a need for additional literacy.

While readers tend to lose a sense of text (or where something is on the page), they can gain a sense of engagement depending on the e-reader device, because they are more able to manipulate text on the screen. Crestani et al. believes that textbooks translate particularly well to e-books because of their non-linear nature, contrary to Allison Jones who explained that textbooks were harder to digitize because their graphics and charts were harder to format for different screens. They explored how to translate textbooks to HyperTextBooks, which could be easily searched and explored and read in terms of related concepts, much like Wikipedia.

The authors conclude that e-publishers should follow guidelines to create a good visual and browsing experience for readers. In the years since the article’s publication, publishers have made some but not enough progress on these fronts.

Patuelli, M. C. and Rabina D. (2010). Forms, effects, function: LIS students’ attitudes towards portable e-book readers. Aslib Proceedings, 62, 228 – 244. DOI:

Drs. Patuelli and Rabina studied the Kindle habits of LIS students to see how their reading habits were affected. The students echoed many of the usability concerns now common knowledge– navigation isn’t intuitive and the buttons don’t match up from device to device– as well as many of the usability benefits– like how portable and lightweight it is.

What I found most interesting was that students reported reading more because of their access to an e-reader, and seeing the e-reader as an addition to not a replacement for their print library. As the study states, no conclusion can be applied to a larger population, but raised good questions about how libraries, as advocates for readers, can integrate e-readers into their practices and collections.

MacFayden, H. (2011). The Reader’s Devices: The Affordances of Ebook Readers. The Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management, 7, 1-15. Retrieved from Google Scholar:

The nostalgia that readers feel for traditional books is a somewhat new phenomenon, as we transition to a realm of digital reading. MacFayden argues this is a natural response as readers adapt to the affordances of e-reader technologies. The affordances of traditional books– the smell and page turning, for example– show how readers place a cultural value on the act of reading.

MacFayden traces the development of a digital infrastructure in academic and trade publishing. One difference she notes is that in academic publishing, the focus is on the e-document whereas in trade publishing the focus is on the e-book device.

She touches briefly on Amazon’s actions surrounding 1984 to illustrate how traditional books offer the affordances of privacy and ownership. This is still a very salient issue, since only last month Amazon revealed how much marketing data it could mine from its customers’ annotations.

But she also brings up the privacy of the commuter, who can hide his or her reading selection from the public gaze. Similarly, a print book can easily be shared with a friend, but musings on a digital book can be shared with multitudes. She raises important questions about how reading is changing as a cultural practice in light of new formats.

MacFayden concludes that e-book technology doesn’t yet provide the affordances that are expected by readers. The most important improvement will be a creating a better connected device, not just in terms of compatibility, but also the ability to support reading, note-taking and writing all on the same device. She implies that the e-book technologies must offer the affordance of authorship to readers.

Liu, Z. (2005). Reading behavior in the digital environment: Changes in reading behavior over the past 10 years. Journal of Documentation, 61, 700-13. Retrieved from

Liu presents an overview of the behavioral changes from print to digital reading based on a survey conducted in 2005. I found two salient points: (1) people report highlighting and annotating digital text less. This is surprising given how many e-readers prize this feature. (2) people are scanning and browsing more, a trend that matches the explosion in text material.

Liu’s survey also reports than people are reading more than ever, and reading more digitally, but that they’re reading with less depth. I believe these findings are relevant to the open access debate, because they indicate to academic publishers that a lay audience exists for scholarly work that can be presented in an appropriate format that can easily be browsed.

Massis, B.E. (2012). Post-literacy and the library. New Library World, Vol. 113 Iss: 5 pp. 300 – 303 Permanent link to this document:

Massis asks about reading, “So, is the practice itself merely changing or is reading actually being transformed through the electronic medium by which it is delivered?”

Massis reports that e-book use is rising in libraries, driving up overall circulation. Some think this means people are reading less or in shorter formats. The e-reader skims and scans rather than “reading.” Massis concludes that libraries should focus on providing more access to the digital materials that patrons are seeking.

I would argue that libraries should also focus on teaching digital literacy so that patrons can read electronic resources on a deeper level.


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