If fiction is a well-known form of escapism (and today I
think most of us could do with a bit of that) I’m retreating from the news in another direction, by climbing the stairs to an ivory tower. Not that I’m involved in any serious academic research, but cogitations on my third novel and one of those serendipitous web meetings pointed me last week in the direction of The
Beginning and End of the World by Robert Crawford, a highly readable account of Victorian St. Andrews (which also prompted these reminiscences) , but of a more academic quality than my usual reading fare. Yes, we are talking footnotes and references! And since in my haste to buy the book I managed to order the Kindle edition, it’s an interesting experience to read a scholarly text on an e-reader.
First of all I was seriously worried I’d be deprived of the
illustrations, but a quick ‘Go to’ reassured me everything is there, and the
quality (since the Victorians didn’t quite get as far as colour photography) is
adequate if not brilliant. But until Kindle comes up with its colour version, this would be a big drawback for any book with modern photos or illustrations (a case of fetch me an i-pad?)
As for footnotes, I rarely read them in detail, but with a conventional book, a thumb lodged at the chapter end lets me skip forward momentarily and decide whether or not I need the extra information. Of course on the Kindle, thumbing isn’t an option, and whereas hyperlinks are just fine in a web browser, moving the kindle cursor to the right place and getting up the reference feels clumsy and slow. On the other hand the back button allows me to return straight away to where I was. Note to self – tell Amazon to provide a ‘next link’ button to bring up the reference as quickly as I can get rid of it.
But a more serious problem with e-readers and textbooks is the current library licensing model. At present (or when I last looked) e-books are delivered and licensed to libraries via publisher platforms to institutional or (via lots of logging in) personal computers. And as far as I know (and is this respect academic libraries are faring no better than public libraries in trying to provide access to complete e-books) there is no model whereby a teacher or student can download a whole e-book on to a personal e-reader except by purchasing it in person. If a tribe of librarians turns up here to put me right, I’ll be only too happy to hear from them!
If Kindle or other e-pub editions of academic texts are made available,
they may be bought by those who can afford them, and in my experience will be
much better than reading from a screen, but as the publishing e-revolution
rolls forward, it looks to me that in this respect as well as many others, the publishing industry as a whole is struggling to keep up.
Wishing you all a peaceful evening, wherever you may be.