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/3340/2985Hillesund, 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.