Posts Tagged ‘e-books’

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Resource Review: Digital Loeb Classical Library

October 14, 2014

Recently I spent some time at the the University of Cincinnati Classics Library playing with their trial of the Digital Loeb Classical Library. This new subscription resource became available in mid-September. I’ll start with some commentary and screenshots on how the Digital Loeb works, and follow with some more big picture thoughts.

As a note, there are many older, out-of-copyright Loeb volumes that have been freely available in digitized versions for some time. E. Donnelly’s Downloebables first made them easily findable, and Ryan Baumann’s Loebolus offers an alternative format.  I also recently ran across a fun tumblr blog that collects snippets of some of the antique translations that appear in these older Loebs.

What Digital Loeb Does

When a user arrives at the Digital Loeb site, the search box is prominent, but there are also browse options available at the left.  The user is given the choice of browsing Author, Greek Works, Latin Works, or Loeb Volumes (arranged by number).

Home - Loeb Classical Library 2014-10-07 12-02-37

Each volume can thus be approached through a table of contents page, which reproduces the print volume’s table of contents, except that each section heading is clickable, and one can also search within the entire volume.

Euripides, Cyclops. Alcestis. Medea - Loeb Classical Library 2014-10-07 12-19-24

Although I’ve just begun to explore the site, two things have already become clear: the site’s aesthetic is fairly elegant and generally pleasant, and the overall structure of the site very closely replicates the print versions of the Loeb volumes. The site is giving me the clear message that this is a digitized version of the existing Loeb Classical Library, not a re-envisioning of the LCL for an internet environment.

Librarians always skip basic search boxes and go straight to Advanced Search, so I did that. It defaults to a Boolean structure, with two boxes connected by AND but the option to add more boxes, and to change to OR or NOT.  The fields available to search are: Author, Editor/translator, Front and back matter, Main text, Notes, Recto, Verso, Work Title, and DOI (Digital Object Identifier). (I once wrote an intro to DOIs, if you need a refresher on that.)

Advanced Search - Loeb Classical Library 2014-10-07 12-06-36

Any of the fields can be searched using Greek characters, using a handy pop-up keyboard; this makes searches of the Greek text quite easy. The user can also select a period to limit the search chronologically (only by 100 year intervals, i.e. 600 BC – 500 BC, and note that one cannot select more than 1 period – are authors whose writing lives took place in two different centuries out of luck?)

I did a complicated Boolean search to try to identify a remembered quotation for a friend, and blogged about it last week.

Below are the results of a simple author search for Sophocles. Works display in alphabetical order, and one can ‘facet’ the search (narrow it further) using the left column in results (although in this case the choices are not particularly useful).  The one user experience problem I had using the Digital Loeb happened here – I found it not obvious how to get to the actual text of one of the works in the search results. I first clicked on Show Results Within under the entry and got nothing (since I had done an author search, not searched the text of the works). It turned out I needed to double-click on title of the work to get to the actual text.

Search Results Sophocles - Loeb Classical Library 2014-10-07 12-08-19

Another aesthetic touch I really liked – the green line on the screenshot above, and the green edge of the digital page of Sophocles’ Antigone below, carrying on the color-coding of the print Loeb volumes.

Once inside a work, the Tools at the bottom of the page allow the user to search for words within that text, again using English or the pop-up Greek keyboard.

SOPHOCLES, Antigone search within- Loeb Classical Library 2014-10-07 12-12-16

Below are the results of a ‘search within’ for a specific Greek word.  Note that it seems as though there is not any sophisticated lemma searching going on here – the search engine can only do exact character matches (and ignores accent). So this is useful if you are trying to place a Greek quotation, but not useful if, for example, you wanted to investigate all discussions of “mother” in Antigone – for that, TLG would be the right resource.

Search Results meter in Antigone- Loeb Classical Library 2014-10-07 12-13-31

If you want to make these results printer friendly, they are very pleasing-looking. (In general it didn’t seem possible to print more than one page of a text at a time, but I might have missed a way to do this, so please correct me if I’m wrong!) In addition to printing a page/search result/etc., one can save it (to a personal account, discussed in more detail below), email it, or share it on social media.  I tested sending search results to twitter, and they were visible to those not currently subscribed to Digital Loeb (thanks, @s_margheim and @magistrahf!)  It’s also easy to change the font size, a nice touch for those of us quickly approaching ‘reading glasses age’.

Search Results printer friendly - Loeb Classical Library 2014-10-07 12-14-49

To navigate within a text, the experience very closely replicates paging through the print volume.  One can move forward or back one page at a time using arrows on the page images, or go to a specific page using the box at the top right corner of the screen (see below).  There isn’t, as far as I found, any easy way to jump to a specific line number within the text you’re looking at, however. I wanted to get to line 1060 of Aeschylus’ Suppliants at one point, and found myself guessing what page it would be in the volume by seeing what page I was on and how many lines appeared per page.  It later occurred to me that it would have been faster to ‘search within’ the text for “1060,” but that seems like a silly workaround to have to resort to when navigating by line number is such a fundamental way of interacting with a text (including print Loebs!) Note that the Green “LCL 145” below is hotlinked and will take you to the table of contents for the volume – I probably would not have stumbled across this early on, but instead learned it from the Frequently Asked Questions page at the site.

AESCHYLUS, Suppliants nav to TOC - Loeb Classical Library 2014-10-07 13-08-58

Happily, the footnotes in the texts do take advantage of the digital environment and pop up if one clicks on them:

AESCHYLUS, Suppliants footnotes - Loeb Classical Library 2014-10-07 13-31-21

Several additional features are available to users who sign up to have an account. The only information one is asked for is name, email address, and a password, so presumably one could remain pseudonymous if one wished.  The web site did not mind that I was on guest wifi at the University of Cincinnati and only using a trial of the site; I was able to create a personal account with no trouble, using a gmail address. Account features include creating bookmarks, saving searches, and creating annotations. One simply highlights a word or phrase in the text and can add a note.

AESCHYLUS, Suppliants annotation - Loeb Classical Library 2014-10-07 13-15-17

The ability to share one’s annotations with other account-holders, and especially the ability to create groups with which one can share, makes annotation an excellent teaching tool on a campus with a subscription: all students could be asked to set up accounts, and the instructor could share annotations with the group or ask them to share amongst themselves.

My Loebs - Loeb Classical Library 2014-10-07 13-17-58

What Digital Loeb Does Not Do

The Digital Loeb does not do much if anything to advance the scholarly conversation around digital texts in classics. It’s a closed, subscription resource; as far as I can tell its texts cannot be downloaded for any purpose at all (for example, to do specialized scripted searches looking for patterns in style or content across texts, like Tesserae has done with Perseus texts). It hasn’t got lemma searching (like TLG). It hasn’t got grammatical or dictionary support for students (like Perseus). It’s not in dialogue with developing digital text projects involving multitext, annotation, or commentary (like Homer Multitext, the Digital Latin Library, Arethusa, Dickinson College Commentaries, and many other worthy projects I hope I don’t offend by not mentioning here). Now, was Digital Loeb required to do any of those things? Of course not. But is it appropriate to point out these limitations, and even mourn a lost opportunity? I think so. Interested in reading further commentary on these sorts of issues? See Greg Crane’s long essay from Feb. 2014 on the Digital Loeb in contrast with his vision of Open Philology; and another essay from Sept. 2014 now that Digital Loeb is available.

Should You Subscribe to Digital Loeb?

If you really like it, and you’re an individual, it is available at an individual price of $195 for the first year and $65 for each additional year.  You can figure out for yourself what it might cost to buy a full print set of Loebs and update as new volumes are released – my guess is you come out ahead even if you subscribe as an individual for 20 years! But there’s not any way for an individual to have trial access – you’d need to talk to a librarian, so if you’re not affiliated with an educational institution, that becomes tricky.  (If this is you, I am sure your local public library would be willing to apply for a free trial on your behalf, but I am sure many non-academic people would never think to ask.)

Pricing for institutions more complicated and less transparent, and one is encouraged to email directly for a quote for an individual library (or presumably consortium). Subscription and perpetual access plans are offered, which is nice for those with deep pockets and fatigue with the ‘annual subscription for digital resources’ problem. There is also a note that secondary schools are offered discounts for institutional pricing.  Anecdotally, what I have heard is “it’s expensive.”  What that means is of course highly variable.

If you’re a librarian reading this and pondering what your institution should do, it certainly makes sense to do a trial and beg, bribe, or threaten students (undergrads and graduate students) and faculty to give you feedback. I’d be most interested in hearing from students, plus faculty who teach the languages at the middle levels and/or have a special interest in pedagogy. My guess is a lot of people will like the Digital Loeb – it’s aesthetically pleasing, and easy to use, and lets you put the whole Loeb Library on your computer (maybe even in your hand – I wasn’t able to test it on a iPad, but I see no reason it wouldn’t work, and the effect would basically be an e-book – it’s just the right size for an iPad mini!). For the librarian, the choice is tricky – it’s a pretty product, but we mostly already get and will continue to get the print Loebs. Does the Digital Loeb add much but convenience and ease of finding passages? It doesn’t have lexical or grammatical tools; it does have quality modern translations, which the more digitally sophisticated Perseus or TLG lack. Does the price your institution has been quoted make this a good deal for you, or not?

 

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Research Workflow and Digital Texts

July 13, 2011

I continue to be interested in academic workflows in general, and how digital tools and texts are being incorporated (or not incorporated) into them.  I’ve written up a first draft of an essay on the project I and some colleagues did with Kindles in an English class this past spring, and am currently most struck by the responses of those students who struggled with the immateriality of a digital book.  Some students took to the Kindle like a duck to water, but others (in surveys) wrote of their disorientation within the e-book, because of their ingrained habit of dealing with books as material objects as well as content containers.

Two interesting essays I’ve read recently on this topic are available open-access:

Cull, Barry W., 2011. “Reading revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe, ” First Monday 16: 6, at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3340/2985

Hillesund, Terje, 2010. “Digital reading spaces: How expert readers handle books, the Web, and electronic paper,” First Monday 15: 4, at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2762/2504

A recent Institute of Classical Studies (London) Digital Classicist Seminar was not specifically focused on reading of digital texts, but took a broader approach to discussing the research practices of academics, and specifically classicists and archaeologists, among others.  Agiatis Benardou spoke on a project that conducted semi-structured interviews with 24 scholars as an attempt to understand their research workflows (as part of planning for a European project to create digital research infrastructure.) I haven’t had the time to listen to the audio of the seminar, which is available as a link, but the introduction, the tweets from the session and the slides available in .pdf all are quite interesting.

It’s a basic principle of librarianship that understanding the patron’s needs is paramount (Ranganathan, “Every reader his book,”), and it’s exciting to see that those developing digital research tools are first seeking to understand user needs and existing practices, before tool development even begins. While we can and do expect user behaviors to change as a result of new technologies – and some of my reluctant Kindle readers will probably figure out a way to feel at home with an e-book as they become more common – it’s also important to know where your users are, and not just where you want them to be going.

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E-Books for Learning Greek

April 4, 2011

I have started looking more seriously at texts for elementary Greek that can be used on the Kindle (and/or other e-book readers), in advance of a possible trial in a class this summer.  Here’s a list of resources I have found useful – do you have any to add? The following include texts available in Kindle format, and texts available as .pdfs – most e-book readers can deal with simply-formatted .pdf files, although their treatment of footnotes or multi-column pages can be, frankly, terrible. I have NOT included online-only texts (as at Perseus, TLG, etc.)

Hathi Trust

  • A scholarly e-book repository, it includes most out-of-copyright works (pre-1923) digitized by Google Books, plus additional titles post-1923 where Hathi staff have worked with publishers and authors to make works available to the public.
  • Search interface is very much like a library online catalog, so it’s easier to find a known title than when searching Google Books.
  • Note one can create a free account and make lists (“public collections“) of texts.  It would be useful to have such a list for important classical works, no?  Maybe in my copious free time (or yours).

Google Books

  • An alphabetical list of works selected by Crane and Babeu – Google Books Ancient Greek and Latin Texts Available as downloadable .pdf files.
  • Ditto, but US-access only. Requires a Google account to log in, and you must be in the US.
  • You can also search Google Books for specific titles, but good luck getting what you want in the first page of results – I’d try Hathi Trust first, myself, as the search interface is more sophisticated.

TextKit

  • Requires creation of an account (free), after which one can download .pdf files.
  • Includes out-of-copyright texts – this site dates to 2001, so the texts were hand-scanned before the advent of Google Books.
  • Greek texts library. There’s also Latin.

Downloebables

  • Best website name ever? Links to downloadable .pdf versions of out-of-copyright editions from the Loeb Classical Libraries.

Project Gutenberg

For purchase at Amazon (prices listed – they are generally modest).

One problem I have run into is that the Kindle cannot convert any documents larger than 25MB, and many .pdf files are larger than this.  The solution is to use Adobe Acrobat and break up the .pdf files into smaller units, which requires a) possession of Adobe Acrobat (the production software, not just the reader) and b) more work on the user end – a lexicon that’s divided into several chunks alphabetically is not as easy to use.

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Kindle Dreams: What I Want in a Scholarly E-Book Reader

February 22, 2011

So, I’ve been using the Kindle and playing with formats and liking it, but I’m now at the point where I’m saying, “wouldn’t it be cool if…”  So here are my ideas about e-book readers for (Classics) scholarship.  Feel free to add your desiderata in comments.

  • I like the dictionary feature – put the cursor next to a word and you get a definition at the bottom of the page.  It would be great to have built-in dictionaries in multiple languages – for a classics scholar you’d want at least French and German, and for archaeologists probably Italian or Modern Greek, as well as the ancient languages.  Basically, like the Perseus built-in dictionary.
  • A way to handle footnotes or endnotes.  Ideally this would be treated in a webby/hypertext way, so you could move the cursor to the footnote and its content would appear discreetly below, the way the dictionary works.  A bare minimum would be structuring the texts so footnotes appear at the end of each page (and adjust if you change font sizes), or if end notes are a must, there should be way to easily flip back and forth between the page and its associated note.
  • A less slow/clunky way to highlight and annotate in the text.  The Kindle (I have the new one, I think it’s Version 3 – it’s grey and tiny) is okay to type on for the most part.  It has a qwerty keyboard.  I would love it if they could get numerals on the keyboard too, though – for those you have to open up a screen and navigate the cursor around it.  And moving the cursor around is a huge pain. I’ve gotten over my initial desire to use the Kindle like an iDevice with a touch screen – I wouldn’t sacrifice the reading ease of e-ink – but there’s got to be a better way to move the cursor.
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Kindle Report: Citiation Issues

February 8, 2011

Teaching with texts on a Kindle quickly brings up the question of how to cite such works in a scholarly paper.  Citing books or other works read on an Kindle (or any other e-book reader) is not explicitly covered in the MLA Handbook (7th edition, 2009), which is the style used by the UGA English Department. (The UGA Libraries’ short guide to MLA 7 is available as a .pdf file.)  The topic has been the subject of some debate online, at the Chronicle of Higher Education forums and on numerous blogs and other sites.

Consensus seems to be that one cites the work as if it were a combination of a print book and a digital file, adding “Kindle Edition” if the work is purchased from the Amazon Kindle store, and using a location number (or a chapter number) in lieu of a page number for quotations.  For works found at Project Gutenburg, or other sites providing digitzed books in Kindle formats, one should probably cite the work in its original print incarnation, and add, i.e., “Kindle Edition from Project Gutenberg” and location numbers as needed.

For students, a consultation with the professor for the class is advised before submission of the paper, to see if the professor has any personal feelings on the subject.

Here are the suggested examples the professor and I came up with (using MLA):

In-text: “The sun illuminates only the eye of man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.” (Emerson 54)
Works Cited list: Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Nature.  Project Gutenberg, edition for Kindle, 2009.  E-book.

In-text: “Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day;” (Thoreau 77).
Works Cited list: Thoreau, Henry David, Walden. Amazon Kindle edition, 2004.  E-book.

Just yesterday, however, came the news that Kindle books will start having page numbers; it is implied that these will correspond to the page numbers of the print edition from which the Kindle edition is derived.  This makes things easy, for books that have a print edition – but plenty of books already do not, and more will not in the future.  It’s a brave new world.  Luckily Walden is timeless.

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Kindle Report: Kinds of Texts

February 7, 2011

I’ve had a Kindle for six weeks now, and I really like reading on it.  It doesn’t give me the eyestrain that reading on a computer screen does, and I appreciate that I can read before bed as a wind-down – my perception is that screen-reading before bed makes it harder to fall asleep, as the lit screen messes with one’s circadian rhythms or something.  I though I’d list the types of texts I have read or tried to read on it, and how they have worked, as a starter.

  • Kindle Books bought (or free) from the Amazon Kindle store.  Kindle format gives “location numbers” instead of page numbers; in class we all have the same edition so to refer each other to a passage we use the location numbers.  We haven’t read any critical editions that would have footnotes, so I am not yet sure how these would be handled.
  • Books from Project Gutenburg in Kindle format.  These have been indistinguishable from Amazon Kindle books.
  • Word documents converted to Kindle format by emailing them to one’s free Kindle converter address.  The professor transcribed a passage from a book into a Word file (.doc) and I converted this to a Kindle format.  It worked just fine, assigning location numbers.  The professor included the page numbers in the transcription, so those show up in the Kindle text, which would be useful if one wanted to cite the original text in a paper.  This was a simple document, without footnotes or any unusual formatting.
  • Scanned .pdf. I scanned a scholarly article from an older bound journal into .pdf, for another purpose, and decided to try to send it through the Kindle converter process.  The journal was tightly bound so the scan was a bit distorted (lines not fully horizontal on the page), and as a result when the Kindle sent the text through its OCR process there were large areas that were rendered unreadable. I would judge this a failure.
  • .pdf from Jstor.  I downloaded a Jstor article in .pdf and sent it through the conversion to Kindle. The Kindle could not handle the footnotes and two-column format of the article (I used a 2005 article from the American Journal of Archaeology).  This was a worse failure than the above; the sentences were so mixed and jumbled that I could not make head or tail of it.

It’s my understanding that .doc and .pdf files can be moved directly onto the Kindle – as one would move a .doc file onto an external drive – and read in their native formats.  Since the page size is generally larger than a Kindle screen, reading them requires scrolling, and one can’t change the font size.  It’s just like reading a .pdf file on a too-small computer screen (except it’s e-ink and not backlit).  I haven’t actually done this yet, and personally I think that the benefit of the e-ink would be outweighed by the annoyance of all the scrolling (which is not easy on a Kindle – it’s not like it’s a touch-screen!)

Conclusions so far: I love to read free fiction books on the Kindle.  I would like to experiment with reading a scholarly book formatted for the Kindle (i.e one with footnotes), and to experiment with different sources of .pdf files to see if I can get any to convert well.

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Kindles in the Classics

December 14, 2010

I found out last week that a grant proposal I wrote was approved.  A team consisting of me, a fellow librarian, and an English professor applied for a Learning Technology Grant from the Center for Teaching and Learning at UGA.  Here’s the abstract:

As students shift to reading texts on screens, faculty and librarians must prepare to support their digital reading, writing, and research. This project proposes the purchase of a set of e-book readers, Amazon’s Kindle 2.0, to be used as an integral part of the classroom experience; students will receive Kindles for use during the semester to read all of their class texts. They will be surveyed regarding their experience using the e-reader, and the instructor will explore how the device changes pedagogy. After the pilot is complete, the Kindles may be used by other classes or circulated to UGA students.

I am going to be embedded in the class, a 4000-level class in Environmental Literature (Thoreau to Annie Dillard, essentially), which should be a lot of fun in its own right.  Once I get my hands on a Kindle, I will be developing online resources for the students in the class that cover how to acquire the class texts (including scholarly articles) and also how to find free or low-cost e-books on any subject, including leisure reading.  I am excited to explore the annotation features the Kindle provides, and to see how the experience of reading changes on a Kindle.  I am very curious to see what the students’ attitudes are!

I’m also thinking about what’s next for the Kindles.  Could they be used in a Classics class?  I don’t know much about availability of Classical texts or scholarly works in Classics on the Kindles, and I don’t think there is currently the kind of built-in dictionary for ancient languages that the Kindle has for English.  Have any Classics publishers considered special formatting for e-books that would allow direct access to endnotes or a lexicon?  Has much been done with computerized language learning in Latin or Greek?  I’ll be trying to talk to faculty to find out, but if anyone can comment with experiences or links to articles on e-books in Classics or digital language learning, I’d be very interested!