Seeking Details on Websites for Digital Textbooks

This topic is a bit far from “library technology” but part of my day job at OhioLINK has been involved with research on digital textbooks. To that end, I’ve been looking at companies that sell a digital form of the printed-and-bound textbook. The sites that I’ve found are summarized below; I would appreciate comments (public or private) that list other sites that you know about so this list can be as comprehensive as possible. Also, if you happen to be researching the same area, please get in touch if you are interested in comparing notes. The list is broken down into two parts, and the companies are listed alphabetically within each part.

Page-for-Page Replications

This is the most prevalent category — those companies that offer a page-for-page replication of the paper edition of the textbook.

Enhanced Digital Editions

In addition to the text of the textbook, these enhanced editions include video, audio, simulations, pre- and post-tests, online glossaries, and/or links to supplemental materials. Part of our research is testing the extent to which these enhanced editions can improve educational outcomes. I’m aware of sites for specific textbooks, but for the purpose of this list I’m seeking out sites that aggregate the sale of many textbooks under one banner.

If you know of other sources — for either type of digital textbooks — please get in touch with me.

The text was modified to update a link from to on November 13th, 2012.

Feeling the Holiday Spirit? Check With Your Lawyers To See if it is Okay

You may have given away your right to feel the holiday spirit via some click-through license dreamed up by an over-exuberant lawyer. Don’t believe me? Anything is possible in the world of contracts; read on…

An in-law sent me a flash animation card from a site called “Elf Yourself” ™ — no link love here, guess the URL or find it in Google — that has some cartoon elves dancing with the images of this in-law’s family’s faces superimposed on the cartoons. It was cute, and I contemplated sending a reply with the faces of my family. As I typically do, I scanned through the Terms of Use that one must accept before starting and the word “universe” caught my eye. “Self,” I said to myself, “why would the word universe be in the Terms of Use?” So went back and read the entire Terms of Use, and the good bit is in “Grant of Rights” (my own emphasis added):

By submitting a photograph or any other materials or information to the Web Site (including, without limitation, your name, picture, likeness, voice or biographical information, vocal messages, text messages or text) (each a “Submission”), you hereby grant to Company, its subsidiaries and affiliated companies and each of their respective licensees, successors and assigns (collectively, the “OfficeMax Entities”), the unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual and royalty-free right and license to use, host, cache, store, copy, distribute, display, perform, publish, broadcast, transmit, modify, reformat, translate or otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever your Submission throughout the universe, in perpetuity [didn’t they already say that once] in any manner and venue and for any purpose whatsoever, including, without limitation, for the purposes of advertising, promotion or trade in promoting and publicizing Company and its products and services, by means of any and all media and devices whether now known or hereafter devised, which includes, without limitation, the unlimited right and permission to post the Submission on this Web Site. [In case you weren’t keeping track, this is the entire first sentence — we just reached the first period.] The OfficeMax Entities shall have the right, in their sole discretion, to edit, composite, morph, scan, duplicate, or alter your Submission in any manner for any purpose which the OfficeMax Entities deem necessary or desirable (each, a Modification), and you irrevocably waive any moral rights you may have in your Submission, even if a Modification is not acceptable to you. You agree that you have no right of approval, no claim of compensation, and no claim (including, without limitation, claims based upon invasion of privacy, defamation or right of publicity [I have a right of publicity?]) arising out of any use or Modification of your Submission, including, without limitation, any blurring, alteration, editing, morphing, distortion, illusionary effect, faulty reproduction, fictionalization or use in any composite form.

A right of publicity? This must have been drafted by a lawyer from Hollywood. There are other neat bits, too — I had to look up the definition of the term “estoppel”1 for instance. The irony doesn’t end there, either. I had to Photoshop together small screen-shots of the Elf Yourself ™ Flash applet in order to put together the graphic you see here. The reason for that effort? The text-based Terms of Use on the site does not match the one embedded in the Flash applet! Just think, if one didn’t bothered to scroll through the text in the applet, all of this fun would be missed. It seems like the work of an overly excessive legal mind (who else would use the word “estoppel”?). Or, (“without limitation”) a committee of overly excessive legal minds.

Needless to say, I found this to be way over the top, so I decided not to send an Elf Yourself reply.


  1. “a bar or impediment preventing a party from asserting a fact or a claim inconsistent with a position that party previously took, either by conduct or words, esp. where a representation has been relied or acted upon by others.” — estoppel. Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved December 22, 2007, from website: []

NIH Mandatory Open Access Provision Becomes Law

President George W. Bush signs into law H.R. 2764, the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2008, also known at the omnibus, making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, and for other purposes, after boarding Air Force One Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007. White House photo by Chris Greenberg
President George W. Bush signs into law H.R. 2764, the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2008, also known at the omnibus, making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, and for other purposes, after boarding Air Force One Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007. White House photo by Chris Greenberg

Update 20071227T1147 : Title of the post changed to reflect the certainty of the bill being signed into law. Via Peter Suber’s Open Access News comes word from the Washington Post that President Bush signed the bill yesterday. Congratulations to the Alliance for Taxpayer Access and all those involved in making this happen. I’m sure we’ll be following the outcomes and impacts of this law for years to come.

The U.S. House and Senate have agreed on a Consolidated Appropriations Act that includes the NIH mandatory deposit and open access provision discussed on DLTJ previously:

SEC. 218. The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law.

The text is unchanged from the previous version of the bill, which was vetoed by the president last month. According to an article on the front page of today’s Washington Post and an article in the New York Times, the final steps of the bill are consideration by the House of an unrestricted war funds amendment, where passage is likely, followed by an expected signature by the President.

[ Update 20071220T0842 : As anticipated, the bill passed the house. ]

The text was modified to update a link from to on January 20th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from to on January 20th, 2011.

ODCE2008 Preliminary Program, Registration Now Available

ODCE Conference LogoThe preliminary program [PDF] and conference registration for the 2008 Ohio Digital Commons for Education (ODCE) Conference is now available. As a member of the conference planning committee and a track co-chair for the Moving Ohio Forward track, I got an early look at the sessions to be presented and can honestly say that they are an exciting mix of high-tech and high-touch ideas. For example, just in the Moving Ohio Forward track, there are programs about sharing digital learning objects, Creative Commons licensing of digital learning objects, a report on the pilot projects of enhanced online textbooks, and a “blank-easel” attendee participation session called Ohio Has Too Many (Fill in the Blank) Programs; Let’s Get Rid of a Few. All of that, plus a keynote presentation by Eric D. Fingerhut, the new Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, and six preconference workshops, means we’re going to have a great meeting!

Mark your calendar for March 2nd through 4th, register now, and we’ll see you in Columbus for the “Convergence of Learning, Libraries and Technology.”

March 2th through March 4th, 2008 — Ohio Digital Commons for Education Annual Conference at Hilton at Easton Town Center, Columbus, OH

ODCE 2008 is the ninth annual Ohio Digital Commons for Education Conference – The Convergence of Learning, Libraries and Technology. ODCE 2008 will be held March 2-4, 2008, in Columbus, Ohio. Pre-conference workshops will be held on Sunday, March 2. The full conference will begin on March 3.

Google Sets Its Sights On Hosting Knowledge

Google is typically known for its advertising, search engine, and news aggregation services. From Geoffrey Bilder on crosstech comes word of a new Google effort called “knol” that will “to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it.” Sound familiar? We typically call such a thing an “encyclopedia” and it is a new in-road into information hosting. Details are scarce beyond the posting by Udi Manber (VP Engineering at Google) linked above (which also says “The tool is still in development and this is just the first phase of testing.”). But one of the key aspects known is that articles will come from signed authors (more like Citizendium than Wikipedia), not anonymous or pseudo-anonymous editors (“We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content.”). Here are some other key aspects extracted from the blog posting:

  • “For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject.”
  • “People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on.”
  • “Anyone will be able to rate a knol or write a review of it.”
  • “Knols will also include references and links to additional information.”

In a nod to where Knols may be put in search engine results, Manber says “A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read.” That would seem to suggest that they could be placed prominently in search engine results. Manber goes on to say that not all Knols will be of high quality and that “our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results.”

There is also a way to monetize Knols. Manber’s post says: “At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads.” That may provide an incentive for some to write Knols that may otherwise attempt to add an article to a shared encyclopedia project like Wikipedia.

Commentary on Knols

Eszter Hargittai on the Crooked Timber blog has a well-thought-out post, and the part of it that made me think the most relates to her first point about search engine results placement. Hargittai says: “Users trust Google (and probably other search engines, pointers to research on others are welcomed!) and it sounds like Google plans to post links to these knols on SERPs likely on top of the list so I anticipate considerable reader exposure.” Lots of other interesting thoughts in that blog posting, too.

Betsy Schiffman of Wired Magazine sees a potential for a conflict of interest, though, and she includes this quote in her article:

“This is Google’s way to grab the ‘third page’ of search,” says Josh Bernoff, an analyst at Forrester Research. “The first page is the main page of a portal; the second page is where the search results are; the third page is what you click on when you decide where to go. Google already owns the first and second page, but since they don’t own content, they have no control over the third page. In fact, a lot of times Yahoo-owned content could show up on the third page.”

In comparing Knols with other public encyclopedia projects (such as Wikipedia and Citizendium), Farhad Manjoo of draws an interesting distinction in the intended “voice” of the articles. He notes that Wikipedia strives to capture “collective knowledge” — which is to say that articles are written by multiple authors who are “not given explicit credit for their contributions.” As such, a neutral point-of-view is part of the standards for articles. A Knol, on the other hand, will be by a single author and can be as opinionated as the author wants. In fact, Manber said there will likely be many Knols on the same topic from different perspectives.

Manjoo also notes that the way a reader will judge the truth and accuracy of articles will differ. Evaluating the trustworthiness of a Wikipedia article involves looking at the cited references for the information contained in the article. (This is why another one of the standards for articles is verifiability through citations.) By contrast, the trustworthiness of a Knol will likely be based in part on the perception of the individual author and the commentary/ratings/etc. from the surrounding social networking community.

Rafe Needleman of C|Net News has a different take; he says “Knol is like Blogger because it’s a personal publishing platform. It’s all about giving authors a platform for writing. It’s just a like a blog, but much more structured.” I’m not so sure I’d go that far, because for me a blog is more about the conversation, and it doesn’t strike me that a series of Knols — strung together by author — will make for much of a conversation.

Impact on the Library Community

With such little information about the program, it is hard to gauge the impact Google Knols will have on libraries. At the very least, it becomes one more place users will find information on the web. Because these will be written by named authors, will instructors protest using Knols as cited references in papers as they do for Wikipedia articles? (Setting aside for the moment the question of whether it is appropriate to cite secondary sources like encyclopedia articles in research papers, of course.) Is there a new bullet point in information literacy classes here?

On the flip side, would librarians write Knols? Perhaps, but I find it hard to imagine those of us who are public servants would be able to accept ad revenue from the effort. And perhaps that is okay.

Advocates of the Balance Between the Rights of Intellectual Property Owners and the Rights of Information Users

The American Library Association Committee on Professional Ethics is proposing changes to the Code of Ethics.1 Other than two minor changes (adding commas where there were none previously — see the proposed changes page for details), the big change is in article 4, which now reads:

We recognize and respect intellectual property rights.

The recommended version reads:

We recognize and advocate balance between the rights of intellectual property owners and the rights of information users.

This is a good change. It puts the librarian profession at the crux of publisher’s rights and user’s rights — a position that is increasingly non-existent in what seems like an increasingly polarized world.

The introductory memo also includes a discussion about enforcement of the code. Personally, I fall into the group that sees the code as “a document of moral responsibility.” The recommendation going forward seems to be to advise local institutions to adopt the code as part of local policy. That is probably as far as it can go, because I don’t see our profession herding our own cats to try to vote in some measure of enforcement through the professional organization. Besides, such energy would best be spent elsewhere in the profession.

The text was modified to update a link from to on January 20th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from to on January 20th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from to on November 21st, 2012.


  1. Do those outside the profession know that librarians have an ethical code? We do! And it is part of what makes us special as a culture. []

Getting On With ‘The Future of Descriptive Enrichment’

Roy Tennant is advocating the phrase “Descriptive Enrichment” over “Bibliographic Control” in response to draft report from the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control, and I’m stepping up to say — I’m right there with you, Roy!1 Your analysis reminds me of statements made by David Weinberger in the Google Tech Talk in response to his book Everything is Miscellaneous. David offers new definitions to words that we use regularly: “metadata” is what we know and “data” is what we want to find out. In the talk, he gave an example (29 minutes and 25 seconds into the playback; this link will take you right there) of using something you know — like a quote from a book — to find something you don’t know — like the author — by putting the quote into a search engine. The “metadata” (the quote) was used to find the “data” (the author) that was being sought.

As I said, I’m with you, Roy — descriptive enrichment, in the form of providing our users as many metadata points as we can to find what they are looking for, is what our future should be about. And thanks for the link to the rant by Michael Gorman on RDA.

So now is someone going to write this up and send it through the official LC comment channel?

I haven’t posted anything about the report mainly because I haven’t finished reading it yet. (The Jester ducks his head when reading Karen Schneider’s e-mail to the LITA list about the general lack of commentary — you might be able to find the post through the mailing list archive. That said, Karen has put up a posting that is tracking commentary.) I’ve been struck by three things so far, though:

  1. The power and force of the first paragraph:
    The future of bibliographic control will be collaborative, decentralized, international in scope, and Web-based. Its realization will occur in cooperation with the private sector, and with the active collaboration of library users. Data will be gathered from multiple sources; change will happen quickly; and bibliographic control will be dynamic, not static. The underlying technology that makes this future possible and necessary—the World Wide Web—is now almost two decades old. Libraries must continue the transition to this future without delay in order to retain their relevance as information providers.

    Wow! If that doesn’t set the stage for a description of the coming disruption to the profession, then I don’t know what more can be said.

  2. The second is in the general description of areas of recommendations (point number 2 on page 2 of the report):
    Transfer effort into higher-value activity. In particular, expand the possibilities for knowledge creation by “exposing” rare and unique materials held by libraries that are currently hidden from view and, thus, underused.

    Presentation slide showing an increase in spending on curated collections and a decrease in spending on purchased collectionsThis is what I referred to as the “third wave” in the recent talk I gave at the NISO workshop on institutional repositories: the digital (or digitized) local materials. My thoughts in this arena are strongly influenced by the writings and presentations of David Lewis of Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis. This slide comes from his presentation “Disruptive Innovation and the Academic Library.” In David’s terms, he foresees an increase in the amount of money libraries spend on curated collections — those things that are local and unique — and a decrease in the amount spent on purchased — or commercially produced — content. This point from the draft report speaks right to this slide.

  3. The third is this paragraph on page 7 under the heading “Guiding Principles: Redefine Bibliographic Control”
    The bibliographic universe today includes an enormous variety of materials: published materials that are purchased by libraries; materials that libraries license for user access; digital materials on public networks; and materials that are unique to an individual library. It is not uncommon that these disparate materials are described and managed through different processes, and are offered separately for user access. Users would be better served if access to these materials were provided in the context of a unified philosophy of bibliographic control.

    This points to important activity such as IMLS Leadership Grant to NELLCO for a universal search system that are addressing the fact that there are no “information gatekeepers” anymore; the users are going to get to the information with or without us. So we had better make it easy for user to discover the riches that lie in our own collections or risk becoming irrelevant.

So, unfortunately, that is as far as I’ve gotten. I’m still aiming to get through the report by the comment deadline and have a coherent critique of the work rather than just praise about key parts that struck me as important.

The text was modified to update a link from to on November 13th, 2012.

The text was modified to update a link from to on August 22nd, 2013.

The text was modified to update a link from to on August 22nd, 2013.


  1. And I would have said so in a comment on your blog entry, but after 10 minutes of struggling with three different browsers to actually get the commented accepted by LJ’s blog software, I gave up and posted it here. []

Draft Specifications of OAI Object Reuse and Exchange Now Available

ORE logoLast night, Herbert Van de Sompel announced the availability of the draft specifications and user guide for Object Reuse and Exchange (ORE). This effort, under the auspices of the Open Archives Initiative (OAI), seeks to define a standard for the description and exchange of aggregations of web resources.

If you stop to think about it, the world of the web is at once a simple and a complex place. It is simple in that it is made up of resources (this HTML page, the jester’s cap graphic in the upper right corner, the text-to-speech audio version of this posting, etc.) that are uniquely addressed by URLs.1 It is complex in that there is a relationship between this HTML page, the jester’s cap graphic, and the audio version that is not explicitly stated — at least not stated in a way understandable by machines processing content on the web. Which is to say, how does a web crawler know that the linked audio file is an alternate version of the text of this posting rather than a link to some holiday music file that I am critiquing?

This is where OAI-ORE comes in. It offers a machine-parsable way to describe relationships between various web resources. In a manner of speaking, an “ORE file” is a new kind of web resource that encapsulates and describes the complexity of real-world compound documents that already exist on the web. The neat thing now, though, is that there is a formal specification for those compound documents that allows their nature to be understood by web crawlers, indexers, and content repositories.

There is lots more about OAI-ORE in the user’s guide and specifications. Keep in mind, though, that these are alpha specifications that represent the best thinking and compromises of a couple dozen people. 2 There are undoubtedly issues and ideas that haven’t been considered yet, so don’t go too far in coding up an implementation that may change (in subtle or dramatic ways) as the public conversation gets going. An OAI-ORE Google Group has been set up to discuss these documents. Those working on ORE to date welcome your comments there, and to reinforce that, I’ve taken the until now unprecedented step of closing comments here on DLTJ — put your comments into the Google Groups area.

Also remember that there are two open meetings scheduled to focus on the specifications:

March 3th, 2008OAI-ORE U.S. Open Meeting at Johns Hopkins University

On March 3, 2008 the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) will hold a public meeting at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD to introduce the Object Reuse and Exchange (ORE) specifications. Space is limited, please register. Supported by Microsoft.

April 4th, 2008OAI-ORE European Open Meeting at University of Southampton

On April 4, 2008 the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) will hold a public meeting at the University of Southampton, in conjunction with the Open Repositories 2008 conference, to introduce the Object Reuse and Exchange (ORE) specifications. Supported by JISC.

We’re looking forward to your questions and comments on the OAI-ORE draft documents.


  1. Technically called “URIs”, but let’s not go down that path for the sake of trying to speak the vernacular of the public web and not that of the technicalities of the underlying standards. []
  2. I’m honored to be among those serving on the ORE Technical Committee. []

NISO IR Presentation: “The Third Wave of Library Information Stewardship”

On Monday, I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at the NISO workshop “Getting the Most Out of Your Institutional Repository” on the topic of The Third Wave of Library Information Stewardship. The presentation abstract was:

[Academic] Libraries are gearing up for the third wave of information under our stewardship. In the first wave, libraries purchased, made discoverable, and managed information from commercial sources in physical forms (e.g., paper-bound monographs, traditional serials, and microform archives). In the second wave, libraries licensed, made discoverable, and supported information from commercial sources in digital form (e.g., electronic journals, index/abstract databases, and image collections).

Libraries are now entering the third wave: selecting, publishing, and curating locally-produced digital content (institutional repositories, pre-print archives, and other locally unique collections). In this third wave, we need the skills and techniques of all of the previous stages, plus a need to learn a few new tricks. This presentation offers an overview of the selection, publication, and curation of locally-produced digital content. The speaker will also end with a glimpse of the fourth wave.

This DLTJ posting is a placeholder for a link to the anticipated recording of the presentation (I’ll update the page when the recording is available) and as a place for attendees to offer comments on the talk. I’ll create a separate posting for my impressions of the meeting and what I learned from the other presenters.

One correction I must make: I gave the conference organizers an older version of my biographical statement. It said that I was heading a project called the Digital Resource Commons that is bringing hosted repositories to OhioLINK members. That (insert one or more of of: mission, honor, duty, challenge, responsibility, dream, nightmare…) is now in the extraordinarily capable hands of John Davison on the OhioLINK staff. Content repositories at institutions (which, as I said in my talk, shouldn’t necessarily be equated to “institutional repositories” as we know them now) remains a key professional interest and activity, just not with the awesome (insert another word from the list above) of running the project. 1

The text was modified to update a link from to on January 19th, 2011.


  1. See the “New Title, New Challenges” posting from earlier this year for more background on the job change. []