It is common knowledge that the books in digital format are gaining popularity, though book lovers with old habits (or paper book fundamentalists?) still prefer to read books in printed form. This trend towards digital publishing is quite profound in the case of textbook publishing. Even though the percentage of people who prefer ebooks to physical books is not that huge, a large chunk of people finds some value in ebooks.
One of the reasons for this shift towards ebooks is nothing but pure economics. Books in digital format are quite cheaper compared with their physical counterparts, and this would certainly be helpful to everyone, especially students. The publishers also see far greater profit margins on ebooks as the production/distribution cost is quite low. The evolution of textbooks from paper to ebooks is inevitable.
Digital textbooks surging ahead
Good quality textbooks are the mainstay of a lot of courses in any university and if the students are not able to purchase them it would endanger their studies. As the ebooks are cheaper and quite affordable to students, many educational institutions encourage people to use ebooks and provide different means to help them find/use them. Most of the digital textbooks are available as free and open content. An open textbook is like any other text- it can be in print or digital format, but the difference is that the copyright holder of the book releases the book without any copyright restrictions (this license is called a creative commons license). This means anyone can take it, mould it to your own needs by adding/deleting/changing its content.
Governments also recognise the potential of ebooks and have started funding projects for the creation of free online open-source textbooks for different college courses. The Open Textbook project of British Columbia is a great example of such an endeavour. Here you can find college level books on a range of subjects that include math, chemistry, psychology, business and so on. They have books for skilled trades and technology courses too. These peer-reviewed electronic textbooks are available for use anywhere in the world.
Open textbook network , which is an alliance of over 250 institutions, has created a search engine/library for easily finding open textbooks.
Though the concept of open-source free books is nice to hear and stirs up huge enthusiasm amongst all of us, the quality of those books is great concern for the academic fraternity. The quality of such books should be comparable to commercial texts. To keep this quality aspect intact, it should be written by experts and should be reviewed by peers and go through a rigorous editorial process. Open Text projects like OpenStax gives immense attention to these aspects.
To access the content from OpenStax, simply choose your subject and select the book you wish to access. You can access the book via multiple ways: you can simply read it online or download the PDF version for viewing it offline. Moreover, along with each book, you will also find resources for instructors (like solution manual). As this part is available only to instructors you need to have an account with the service.
One easy way to measure the success of an open text project is to find the number of faculty/schools using these books. OpenStax claims that their “books are being adopted at the same rate as commercial textbooks in high-enrollment introductory undergraduate courses”.
Managing your ebook library
Apart from the sources mentioned above, one can mobilise ebooks from other sources such as Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, Open Library, Manybooks, and so on and so forth. Once you download those books, over time, you may find it difficult to manage them. This is where the ebook management tool Calibre comes in handy.
The Calibre is a free open source, ebook editing and management software. The application is available on almost all popular platforms: Windows, Mac and Linux. The tool can be used for different objectives. For instance, some people use for just managing their ebook collection. You can use it to edit ebooks and convert it into different formats as well. To edit a book you need to convert it to the EPUB format.
Several options are available to populate the ebook library with Calibre. One simple option is to use the ‘Add books’ feature. Using this option you can add digital books in different formats (MS-Word, PDF, EPUB etc). When you add a book, Calibre automatically collects its metadata (like title, author name, cover page, some tags associated with the book, ISBN number and so on) and displays this data along with the book.
If you find some mistakes in the metadata collected by the software, you can edit it using the ‘edit metadata ‘ feature. If you have several books, you may find editing the metadata for each of them a laborious task. To get around this difficulty, use the ‘download ‘ metadata option, which will instruct the program to collect the metadata from the Net. The software will find the metadata based on its title and author name.
Another feature worth a mention is the ‘Get Books’ option that lets you collect books from different online sources. For instance, if you wish to purchase a book and know the seller with the lowest price, simply enter the title of the book and invoke a search under the ‘Get books’ menu. The tool will go out and search various booksellers’ websites (like Amazon, Google Books etc.) and get you a list of matches sorted by price. When you click on any of the links in the list, Calibre will take you to the seller’s site.
Now, if you wish to share your ebook library with your friends/colleagues in your private network, Calibre’s Connect/Share network feature could come in handy. This feature allows you to convert the Calibre into a local web server, which can be accessed by anyone on your local network via the port 8080. This means, if your IP on the local network is 192.168.1.1, then anyone on your network can access your ebook library using the link here.