Fending off the ‘digital decay’ of archived resources, bit by bit

As research libraries and archives are discovering, “born-digital” materials are much more complicated and costly to preserve than anticipated, reports the New York Times. Among the archival material from Salman Rushdie currently on display at Emory University in Atlanta are inked book covers, handwritten journals, and four Apple computers. The 18 gigabytes of data they contain seemed to promise future biographers and literary scholars a digital wonderland: comprehensive, organized, and searchable files, quickly accessible with a few clicks. But like most Rushdian paradises, this digital idyll has its own set of problems. Electronically produced drafts, correspondence, and editorial comments are ultimately just a series of digits written on floppy disks, CDs, and hard drives—all of which degrade much faster than old-fashioned, acid-free paper. Even if those storage media do survive, the relentless march of technology can mean that the older equipment and software that can make sense of all those 0’s and 1’s simply don’t exist anymore. All of this means that archivists are finding themselves trying to fend off digital extinction at the same time they are puzzling through questions about what to save, how to save it, and how to make that material accessible. “It’s certainly one of those issues that keeps a lot of people awake at night,” said Anne Van Camp, the director of the Smithsonian Institution Archives and a member of a task force on the economics of digital preservation formed by the National Science Foundation, among others…

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Homework at North Texas schools is going high-tech

A vanguard of schools around the country is sending students home with the same advanced technology they work with in the classroom, reports the Dallas Morning News. Every netbook is a potential eBook reader and Wi-Fi portal, research tool, and classwork file. It’s a trend that education experts say is inevitable, as prices and durability of the equipment improve along with the educational opportunities accessible online. Last week, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at the Math, Science and Technology Magnet Elementary School, part of the Richardson Independent School District, carried school-owned netbooks home. A few weeks earlier, students at Richardson West Junior High Magnet School were assigned similar computers. “Kids that age are the ones using iPhones at 8 years old,” said Angela Vaughan, principal at Richardson’s MST elementary school. “This is a natural thing for most of them.” The real hurdles have more to do with the teachers, said Alan Foley, an associate professor of instructional design, development, and evaluation at Syracuse University. Instructors need to learn how to work the new machinery into lessons, and about new issues of classroom management…

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University library sees demand for Kindles soar

Oregon State undergraduates have flocked to the library's Kindle rental program.
Oregon State undergraduates have flocked to the library's Kindle loaner program.

For students looking to temper sober textbook readings with a literary escape into the world of vampires and zombies, Oregon State University is loaning out Amazon Kindle electronic readers stocked with the latest in popular books.

The Corvallis, Ore.-based university has found it too expensive to fill its Valley Library shelves with fiction and nonfiction books that students would read for fun, not homework assignments or upcoming exams. So in November, the university began lending Kindle eReaders to students and faculty willing to part from traditional page flipping and embrace a technology being tested on campuses nationwide.

The immediate demand for the electronic books forced Valley Library officials to alter Kindle policies created by a campus task force last summer.…Read More

Math of publishing meets the eBook

In the emerging world of eBooks, many consumers assume it is only logical that publishers are saving vast amounts by not having to print or distribute paper books, leaving room to pass along those savings to their customers, reports the New York Times. Publishers largely agree, which is why in negotiations with Apple, five of the six largest publishers of trade books have said they would price most digital editions of new fiction and nonfiction books from $12.99 to $14.99 on the forthcoming iPad tablet — significantly lower than the average $26 price for a hardcover book. But publishers also say consumers exaggerate the savings and have developed unrealistic expectations about how low the prices of eBooks can go. Yes, they say, printing costs may vanish, but a raft of expenses that apply to all books, like overhead, marketing and royalties, are still in effect.

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Princeton students, profs give Kindle mixed grades

One Princeton student surveyed said the Kindle was "difficult to use"
One Princeton student surveyed said the Kindle was "difficult to use."

Princeton University has released findings from its semester-long pilot of Amazon.com’s Kindle DX electronic reader, and the results appear mixed: While students reduced the amount of paper they printed for their classes by nearly 50 percent, some students and professors said they felt restricted by the device.

“e-Readers must be significantly improved to have the same value in a teaching environment as traditional paper texts,” a university press release said.

Students and faculty who were surveyed after the pilot program ended said they appreciated the portability of the Kindle DX, and the fact that it greatly reduced the printing and photocopying they did for their courses. But they said they missed the ability to highlight text directly, take notes, and flip back and forth through pages of their textbook easily.…Read More

Online books let college students earn credit—and cash

Traditional textbooks can cost more than $900 per year, according to national surveys.
Traditional textbooks can cost more than $900 per year, according to national surveys.

Nineteen business majors are trying to sell the idea of free online textbooks to their professors in an internship program that pushes open-content technology designed to counter escalating book costs.

The internships, introduced this year by open textbook provider Flat World Knowledge, let sophomore and junior business students earn college credit and a little spending cash if their sales pitch convinces a professor to use web-based texts that can be reorganized and modified by chapter, sentence, or word.

Students from schools that include New York University, the University of Florida, and the College of Charleston are being tutored via webinars by Flat World Knowledge sales pros and authors of textbooks that are sold on the Flat World web site.…Read More

Textbooks that professors can rewrite, digitally

In a kind of Wikipedia of textbooks, Macmillan, one of the five largest publishers of trade books and textbooks, is introducing software called DynamicBooks, which will allow college instructors to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them for their individual classes, reports the New York Times. Professors will be able to reorganize or delete chapters; upload course syllabuses, notes, videos, pictures, and graphs; and perhaps most notably, rewrite or delete individual paragraphs, equations, or illustrations. While many publishers have offered customized print textbooks for years—allowing instructors to reorder chapters or insert third-party content from other publications or their own writing—DynamicBooks gives instructors the power to alter individual sentences and paragraphs without consulting the original authors or publisher. “Basically they will go online, log on to the authoring tool, have the content right there and make whatever changes they want,” said Brian Napack, president of Macmillan. “And we don’t even look at it.” In August, Macmillan plans to start selling 100 titles through DynamicBooks. Students will be able to buy the eBooks at dynamicbooks.com, in college bookstores, and through CourseSmart, a joint venture among five textbook publishers that sells electronic textbooks…

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Apple and e-book DRM: Will they? Should they?

With Apple already firmly entrenched in the realms of digital music and video, it was only a matter of time before the company got into the future of the printed word, reports Macworld. But aside from the few hints Apple CEO Steve Jobs dropped at the iPad unveiling last month, relatively little is known about the company’s forthcoming iBookstore. Case in point: will the e-books that Apple sells contain digital rights management? And, given that Apple has made such a big push to sell music free of DRM restrictions, should the company enforce it on books? Will they?

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Lawmakers seek to overhaul e-Rate

The new bill would provide student vouchers for internet access.
The new bill would provide student vouchers for internet access.

A new House bill seeks to overhaul the e-Rate, which provides telecommunications discounts to eligible schools and libraries, to make it a more useful tool in the federal government’s National Broadband Plan.

Introduced Feb. 9 by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and co-sponsored by Reps. Lois Capps and Doris Matsui, both California Democrats, the “e-Rate 2.0 Act of 2010” (H.R. 4619) would allow the e-Rate to help bridge the digital divide in students’ homes, fund electronic books in schools, and adjust its coverage for inflation. Under Markey’s proposal, Head Start programs and even community colleges would be eligible for some funding.

“This critical bill will help narrow the digital divide by increasing the range of the latest telecommunication services and devices accessible to low-income students, including residential broadband services and eBooks incorporated into students’ classroom lessons,” said Markey in a statement. “The original e-Rate bill that I [co-] authored has largely fulfilled its mission of linking up schools to the web. The fact that only 14 percent of K-12 classrooms had internet access at the time the 1996 bill was enacted, compared to more than 95 percent today, is a testament to that success. Now, with the expansion of the scope of technology, students need more than just web access at school, and our e-Rate 2.0 bill is intended to reflect those expanded needs.”…Read More

Publishers win a bout in eBook Price Fight

With the impending arrival of digital books on the Apple iPad and feverish negotiations with Amazon.com over e-book prices, publishers have managed to take some control–at least temporarily–of how much consumers pay for their content, reports the New York Times. Now, as publishers enter discussions with the Web giant Google about its plan to sell digital versions of new books direct to consumers, they have a little more leverage than just a few weeks ago–at least when it comes to determining how Google will pay publishers for those e-books and how much consumers will pay for them.

Google has been talking about entering the direct eBook market, through a program it calls Google Editions, for nearly a year. But in early discussions with publishers, Google had proposed giving them a 63 percent cut of the suggested retail price, and allowing consumers to print copies of the digital books and cut and paste segments. After Apple unveiled the iPad last month, publishers indicated that Apple would give them 70 percent of the consumer price, which publishers would set.

According to several publishers who have been talking to Google, the book companies had balked at what they saw as Google’s less generous terms, and basically viewed printing and cut-and-paste as deal breakers……Read More