Preamble: Envisioning the potential of eBooks in promoting and supporting Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based- student-centered learning, UNESCO is engaged in a project on developing guidelines for eBooks. The mission of this project is to carry out a scoping and exploratory study of the eBooks and develop guidelines for the production, promotion, and usage of eBooks. Under the aegis of this UNESCO Project a study on ‘eBook Publishing and use’ was carried out and a preliminary report has been prepared
UNESCO eBook Workshop Report Dr. Shalini R. Urs
Given the turbulent setting of the eBook industry and the fluidity of the medium, the landscape of eBooks is very hazy – clouded with diversity of definitions, standards, formats, delivery mechanisms, and access models. Therefore capturing the snapshot of the scenario is a daunting task. This consultancy project involved three phases- desktop research; questionnaire-based user study and an Interactive Workshop. The Interactive Workshop on eBooks was organized on September 16, at Hotel Atria in Bangalore. The primary objective of the Workshop was to identify, appreciate and understand the issues and the complexities involved and to delineate the role of eBooks in education, research, and libraries from the perspective of the publishers, intermediaries, and users. The Workshop was also intended to be a vehicle for sensitizing the participants to the issues and concerns in the domain of eBooks
ICTs have radically transformed the ways and means of creating, packaging, distributing, and the delivery of content – data and information. Today all forms of content- from grocery lists to genome data, have gone digital. While new technologies have exciting possibilities, their diversity and dynamically evolving nature have been exacerbating. E-book publishing is a dynamic, fast-paced, and still evolving field. It is estimated to be a big industry too- worth an estimated $ 400 billion and a 250 million e-book reading public by 2005. The stakeholders in the eBooks community-authors, publishers, distributors, and consumers, are faced with twin challenges: technological obsolescence – short-lived technologies-both hardware and software; and the diversity in relevant formats and standards- often incompatible and non-interoperable. The eBook industry and market place is a nebulous one with each of the players continuing to test waters and gingerly transiting into the arena. While most of the stakeholders believe in the potential of the eBooks, none is ready to take the plunge –not yet! The eBook revolution though foretold in the year 2000 is yet to happen.
The invitation-only workshop was an important milestone in the Project, with more than seventy participants representing the diverse stakeholders’ community. There were forty-three information professionals; twenty-four end-users and technologists; and six from publishing/aggregator industry in the Workshop, engaged in interacting, deliberating and debating on the gamut of issues- from design to delivery mechanisms. The format of the Workshop was designed to be interactive with each session having speakers and a moderator to lead the discussions with a set of issues/questions. The Programme was structured into four sessions- the inaugural session was intended to set the tone and context of the landscape of eBooks with speakers providing overviews from different angles. The other three sessions were intended to provide a forum for the concerns of different stakeholders groups. The three sessions surveyed the eBooks from three perspectives- the user and technology perspective; the author and publisher’s perspective; and the aggregator and library perspective. During the afternoon tea break, product demonstrations by two leading eBook publishers – John Wiley and Springer gave a sampling of the eBook industry offerings.
The Inaugural session began with the Workshop Coordinator Shalini Urs welcoming and introducing the guests as well as setting the context of the Workshop by providing a snapshot of the scenario- the definitions, milestones in the history of eBooks, the uncertainties engendered by the merger and closure of some of the key players. In his Inaugural address Dr. S. Ramakrishnan, Executive Director, C-DAC Pune highlighted the vexing issues of diversity of eBook formats and the reader devices drawing from his vast experiences in the field. In addition to raising the issues of successful business models for any innovative technologies, he also stressed some of the leading Indian Initiatives especially the contributions of C-DAC. Ms.Lucy Tedd of the University of Wales in her keynote address outlined the major developments in the arena of eBooks, with special references to the UK experiences. She highlighted the efforts of the JISC E-Books Working Group in establishing leadership and evolving strategies for promotion. Dr.Susanne Ornager, Advisor, Communication and Information for Asia and Pacific UNESCO, New Delhi as chair of the session wrapped up the session by setting the context of eBooks within the mandate and mission of UNESCO. She also set the agenda for the discussions and interactions for the remaining sessions of the Workshop by drawing attention to the critical issues of definitions, standards for software hardware formats, pricing models, and other relevant aspects of eBooks.
The second session focusing on the user and technology perspective had two presentations- one from Prof. R. Kalyana Krishnan of Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai providing the technology perspective, and another by Prof. G. Misra of Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore giving the user perspective. Mr. Anand T. Byrappa of GE India Tech Centre, moderated the session while homing in on pertinent points for discussion. Kalyana Krishan began his presentation with what he characterized as negative views on technologies. In this context, he drew attention to the challenges of taking the technologies for Indian masses. His presentation covered the different facets and phases of the publishing cycle of eBooks and the technologies from the perspectives of the different stakeholders. He advocated for focusing attention on the human side of technologies. In contrast, taking a very positive positioning on technologies Prof. Misra reacted to the discussions on the vexing issues of ‘definition and standards’ of eBooks. In an anecdotal style, drawing upon his personal experiences in scholarly publishing and dissemination, he substantiated his positioning and views. He also highlighted on the trade-off between positive and negative aspects of the electronic medium and the slow but inevitable acceptance of the electronic medium by the people and society at large. The session generated heated debate on the pros and cons of technology and also proprietary vs. open-source software.
The session on author and publisher perspective included two presentations – one from Prof. Kalyana Krishnan and another from Mr.Sanjiv Goswami from Springer. Kalyana Krishnan presented his views on eBooks from the perspective of an author. He emphasised on the concerns of authors with respect to copyrights and the technology support for the same. In this context he described the major industry formats for eBooks such as the popular HTML, Adobe PDF and MS Reader formats. He also demonstrated the Indian Language solutions, simple utilities and tools that his team has developed under the Acharya system at IIT, Chennai. It was a lively session with participants reading out the Indian Language Texts in PDF generated on the fly. Sanjiv Goswami brought out – very effectively, the publishers perspective by outlining the steps and phases in the publishing phenomenon and the role that publishers play with the help of case studies. He also underscored the differences in the marketing principles behind mass products such as operating systems and eBooks and other publishing endeavors. This session was moderated by Prof. I.K. Ravichandra Rao of Indian Statistical Institute who tempered the interactions on contentious issues such as conflict of interests between authors and publishers based on his personal experiences as an author of academic books.
The final session on eBooks from the aggregators and library perspective had three presenters and was moderated by Dr.Venkadesan of the Indian Institute of Science. Venkatesan outlined the array of issues and enumerated the librarian’s wish list for the aggregators of eBooks. He set the framework for the presenters by raising some pertinent questions. The first speaker of this session Mr.N.V.Sathyanarayana of INFORMATICS India began with a radical positioning- that of eBook aggregators slowly and quietly replacing the libraries. He underscored the value addition that the aggregators bring in and drew parallels between the roles of aggregators and the libraries – juxtaposed as they are at the two ends of the information chain. The differences in the business and access models of different eBook aggregators such as netLibrary, Ebrary, Questia, books @Ovid, and Safari Techbooks online were brought out in this presentation. Ms. Primalini Kukanesan of National Library of Malaysia providing the country report from Malaysia – spoke about the uptake of eBooks in the different types of libraries- school libraries, public libraries, university libraries, and the national library, based on a survey. Noting that in Malaysian libraries eBooks are just beginning to take off, she also highlighted the different eBook pricing and usage models in these different settings in Malaysia. Dr. Deepali Talagala, the President of the Sri Lanka Library Association, focused on the challenges before the library profession in seamlessly integrating the eBooks into the library collections. Speaking from the collection development and management point of view, she stressed the challenges of ‘Change Management’ in terms of infrastructure requirements, user education, and others.
In closing the Workshop Dr.Susanne Ornager summed up the issues and discussions and outlined the future strategies .Wrapping up, Shalini thanked each one of the participants for their time and efforts in contributing to the success of the Workshop.
The Workshop objective of gaining insights from a different perspectives was achieved and the interactions helped in drawing meaningful conclusions and providing the necessary inputs for the drafting of a framework for the guidelines document.
All presentations are available in the Workshop website.