Enhanced e-books and “portal books” – publisher/library partnerships

The following is the second post from Sylvia Miller, Project Director, “The Long Civil Rights Movement,” University of North Carolina Press.  This post discusses enhanced e-books and “portal books,” those that offer multimedia links from annotations within the book.

This is a follow up to a recent posting on what we have learned from the LCRM Project’s online publishing pilot.

This blog post has two sections:

1.  Publisher-library partnerships and enhanced e-books
2.  Links to related “portal books” projects and enhanced e-books

Publisher-library partnerships and enhanced e-books

A new kind of publisher-library partnership might take place at the level of the individual book.  I would like to see archiving, digitizing, and publishing happen in tandem.  For example, when an author has conducted oral-history interviews and consulted archival documents during research for a book, the interviews might be ingested into an archive and made available digitally, and the archival collections that were consulted might be digitized, at a library.  Simultaneously, the book would be edited and produced at the publishing house.  This parallel process would make it possible to publish the book as an enhanced e-book with archival material imbedded in it and outbound links to primary-source collections included as well.

The process would be most efficient if a single archive hosted the most important material; however, material from multiple archives could be included in much the same way that illustrations and tables from multiple sources are currently included in print books.

A quotation or illustration selected by an author is usually representative of a larger collection.  The author’s choice is in itself valuable scholarly information, because it prioritizes the primary-source item in an interpretive context. In a new interconnected online environment, that item can also serve as a portal to the full collection from which it was selected.  The author might write captions or sidebars that include links to full collections, or she might prefer to have an archivist write them.

There is an exciting future for enhanced e-books in scholarly publishing in the humanities and social sciences, and I look forward to seeing publishers and librarians share best practices and work out a repeatable, scalable process.  (The AAUP report “Sustaining Scholarly Publishing:  New Business Models for University Presses” rightly recommended that “there should be a central conduit for sharing information about these projects.”)  Although the number of e-books enhanced with multimedia materials is growing, it is a challenge to find examples in which illustrations/captions and sidebars/annotations serve as portals to full archival collections as in the LCRM online pilot; I list a couple of links below, but surely I am not aware of all related projects. I would welcome comments on this blog post sharing such projects.

Enhanced e-books would be even more useful to scholars if they also included DOI (digital object identifier) links.  (In the LCRM pilot, bibliography entries include outbound DOI links to the full text of the referenced sources, when available via the CrossRef system.) Historians and sociologists are certainly not used to seeing DOI links in bibliographies; the “wow” factor of this feature in the LCRM pilot was significant.  According to the LCRM technical team, it is quite feasible to include DOI links in Epub files.  Has anyone done this yet?  Please comment on this blog post if you know the answer.

Links to related “portal books” projects and enhanced e-books

We need to coin a term for an e-book that is connected to multimedia sources via annotated links (and perhaps connected to published sources as well, via DOI links).  A “portal book”?  Someone will surely invent a term more clever and appropriate for a book that is transformed in the digital environment into a dynamic “interface to a body of information” (Tim O’Reilly).

Archaeology of the Americas Digital Monograph Initiative, http://www.archaeologyoftheamericas.com/

This project plans to incorporate multimedia data sets within enhanced monographs as well as partner with archaeological data aggregators to include links to databases outside of the monograph itself.  I look forward to hearing whether any of the collaborating presses will partner with their own university library or institutional repository for stable hosting of the data sets.

Candide 2.0:  A networked edition of Voltaire’s 1759 classic, http://candide.nypl.org/text/

Based on CommentPress (see Institute for the Future of the Book, below), this site includes commissioned annotations from a variety of commenters.  The commenting period is now closed, but all of the content is still accessible.  The emphasis was textual commentary, but at least one comment by a curator linked the text to online archival collections.

Ethnomusicology Multimedia (EM), http://www.eviada.org

This project turns our LCRM Project approach 180 degrees by prioritizing the annotation of audiovisual material within the audiovisual archive; if I understand it correctly, keying of that material to monograph pages would be a second step.  This is a fascinating idea that could also work for oral histories and books on (civil rights) history.  Archivists are keen to capture scholars’ notes on their holdings, and an annotation that is not tied to a particular secondary text could apply to many texts.  However, within a particular monograph, the reader might find more meaningful an annotation that is contextually connected to the narrative.  I look forward to learning whether the Indiana University Library is partnering with the project to create and host the archive, and to seeing how the idea of keying archival material to monograph pages will develop.

Institute for the Future of the Book, http://www.futureofthebook.org

The above site describes CommentPress and links to the many interesting experiments that New York University has done with it, but as far as I can tell, the site does not offer any information about the new software that Bob Stein described at the recent AAUP meeting in Baltimore and which he said would launch in October 2011.  It is a new, more sophisticated version of CommentPress that he called SocialBook (not to be confused, I believe, with a currently available iPad app by the same name).  Using Epub files, it will allow readers to highlight, annotate, share comments, have virtual book groups, and—the main reason I list it here—comments can incorporate links as well as other uploaded materials.  Users will be able to choose whether or not to share their comments publicly.

The Long Civil Rights Movement Project,  https://lcrm.lib.unc.edu/voice/works

Some of the most pertinent links inserted by users in our project are attached to annotations now closed to public access, but you can still see how the annotation feature works on the open access content.  Again—in sum—scholars and archivists were invited to add annotations and links to primary source collections.  One advantage of the dynamic, participatory model is that it is always poised to take advantage of the constant, rapid increase in the amount of primary-source material that is coming online as a result of archivists’ digitization efforts.  The potential for links to break and need updating is a disadvantage that needs to be addressed.  In order to link to published sources, bibliographies in the collection include both DOIs and OpenURL links (the latter for those users who know how to set up the OpenURL plug-in).

Note that the foregoing projects might be considered a subset or offshoot of the growing body of enhanced e-books in which multimedia files are embedded (rather than linked).  Some exciting and fascinating examples in scholarly book publishing are:

Dangerous Citizens by Neni Panourgiá (Fordham University Press and Columbia University Library, 2009).  A specially programmed open-access website-book. (Marginal commentary is termed “parerga.”)


The Elements by Theodore Gray (Touch Press,  2010) An iPad app.


Demo on YouTube:


Give My Poor Heart Ease:  Voice of the Mississippi Blues by William Ferris (University of North Carolina Press, 2010).  A Kindle enhanced e-book; soon to be a Nook enhanced e-book.


Gems and Gemstones: Timeless Natural Beauty of the Mineral World by Lance Grande and Allison Augustyn  (University of Chicago Press and Touch Press, in collaboration with the Field Museum, 2011).  An iPad app.


Demo on YouTube:


Learning from YouTube by Alexandra Juhasz (MIT Press, 2011). A “video -book” available online only, in an experimental interface .  (A page integrating text and video is termed “texteo.”)