There I was, searching for the keyword "England" in a very out-of-copyright Victorian novel, and...strange results kept cropping up in the midst of my results list. How did "no preview...buy this book" keep getting into my free eBook?
And how did my author cite an article published several decades after the book was printed? Curiouser and curiouser. It would appear that the keyword search is randomly pulling up results from entirely different books, even though my search was specifically limited to one text.
I've noted before that all of my attempts to invest in an e-reader have been thwarted by plumbing. E-reader? Basement floods! E-reader? Pipe needs to be cut open! E-reader? Bathtub armageddon! (I swear, there's some sort of conspiracy. Either that, or a poltergeist.) However, my parents took the initiative, and presented me with a shiny new Kindle Fire for Hanukkah. Some thoughts, bearing in mind that I'm interested in an e-reader, and not in a makeshift tablet:
The touchscreen responds quickly, although it can be difficult to get back to the menu from a PDF file (one has to tap around a bit). It's easy to magnify or shrink the object on display. Print and images are sharp, without lots of pixellation. The display reorients from portrait to landscape automatically.
The pages "flip" fast enough to satisfy a fast reader like myself. There's a handy menu bar that tells you how far you've made it into the text, although page #s would be awfully nice (I don't think MLA style has quite evolved this far yet). Books reopen where you left off. Search-inside-the-book was accurate and fast. There's also dictionary access (New Oxford American Dictionary).
Download times were zippy for eBooks. However, it looks like you'll have to use a format converter to convince GoogleBooks PDFs to actually stay put once you've downloaded them (on my own machine, they vanished after one session). That being said, PDFs worked perfectly well otherwise. Video also streamed without problems, although the Fire's limitations as a tablet fill-in become obvious once you contemplate the picture quality; audio is about what you'd expect for an e-reader (i.e., tinny). Still, adequate enough if you want to stock up some TV for a plane flight.
The one real issue: the touchscreen keyboard. Eeeeeyarrrrggggh. Much, much too small; even a small woman like myself constantly hits the wrong keys, so I can't imagine how a large man would deal with it. The same problem emerges any time two command keys are grouped closely together, which is why there's a "cancel order" button. This flaw is not hugely important if you're using the Fire for its primary function, but it definitely does it in as a tablet substitute (too frustrating for websurfing, impossible for e-mail, etc.). ETA: You can enlarge the keys by switching to landscape.
Given what I usually write about, I frequently have to search for "popery." Google, however, does not want me to search for popery. Instead, it insists on turning my search into "property"--which, no matter how many interesting real estate links it turns up, does not fulfill my need for whatever no-Popery novel, tract, or poem I'm trying to find. Charles Dickens managed to anticipate this confusion in Barnaby Rudge:
In any event, this evening's search for "popery" proved most frustrating, without or without inappropriate property, as there's apparently no trace of H. Belcher's poetry collection The Portrait of Popery (1861). Not to be confused, mind you, with John Hill's A Portrait of Popery (1834), let alone William Warburton's sermon A Faithful Portrait of Popery (1745). Not only is there no trace of it via Google, aside from a couple of reviews, but it isn't turning up in the British Library catalog, WorldCat, or COPAC. The Bulwarkinforms me that the "sentiments are excellent" (this being The Bulwark, I'm guessing that's a polite way of saying "rabidly anti-Catholic") and, somewhat alarmingly, that the poet has elected to use the "Spenserian stanza" (which, given the usual standards of Victorian controversial verse, might be an interesting break from tub-thumping iambic pentameter quatrains...but might also be a disaster of near-apocalyptic proportions; experience dictates the latter).
1. Allows ample time for meditation on the profundities of life, such as the need to get hold of the handyman, the fact that the cat is sitting on the clothes you are trying to pack, or the mysterious behavior of some light switches.
2. Enables more upper-body exercise, in the form of moving book boxes around.
3. No access to GoogleBooks means a brief holiday from reading bad Victorian fiction.
4. Additional time to reread Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now.
5. No convenient distractions from the book review in progress.
6. No convenient distractions from cleaning.
7. Walking one mile to the office to check e-mail works off holiday calories.
8. The temporary inaccessibility of the office vending machine offers healthy self-discipline (as I cannot get to the chocolate).
9. Lower electrical bills.
10. Less time on Amazon = fewer books in the house.
A few months ago, I bemoaned the blizzard of photocopies settling in file drawers, piling up in odd corners, and drifting across the floor. The situation, I gathered, called not for a snowblower, but for a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500. Flash forward to last week, when two important things arrived: a new computer (the old one, already marked for replacement, developed Worrying Symptoms of Imminent BSOD) and the aforementioned scanner. Thanks to eBay, the scanner did not produce other Worrying Symptoms--namely, Worrying Symptoms of Imminent Pocketbook Meltdown.
So, I've been scanning. This involves pushing one illuminated button, helpfully marked "Scan." (You can't expect academics to pick up on such things by themselves.) Well, that and removing staples. Some thoughts:
Speed. The scanner is as fast as advertised. I've scanned at least one hundred and fifty articles--in other words, nearly one thousand pages--since Friday, without being chained to my desk.
Curse you, humidity! As anyone who has cussed out their department photocopier knows all too well, humidity does aggravating things to paper, which in turn does aggravating things to the automatic feeder mechanism. The ScanSnap is equally suspect to humidity-induced discombobulation.
Got creases? The scanner handles creased, battered, bumped, and otherwise bolluxed paper with reasonable equanimity.
Direct line. It's good that the scanner handles creased etc. paper well, because if you don't perfectly align the document in the feeder, Paper Jams of Rage occur. And then your uncreased paper will be, well, creased.
Size. I've found that the scanner can handle pages of different size within the same document, although I gather from reviews that not everyone has had that experience.
Mark TWAIN. Or, rather, the lack thereof. As several people on the Amazon page point out, there's no TWAIN driver, which means that you can't just add newly scanned pages to an old PDF. This will be cause for irritation if you want to update old files with new scans. However, there's a workaround for documents that run over fifty pages.
Got IFilter? If you're running Windows 7 (*waves*), you can't search PDFs via the Windows search box, even if you have the right TIFF setting. (You can work around this by searching directly in Acrobat.) This may cause a great disturbance in the Force. It doesn't help that Adobe Acrobat does not yet have a Windows 7 filter in place, for reasons that are clear...to nobody, really. After I bewailed this discovery on Facebook, a friend pointed me in the direction of Foxit, which does have the Windows 7 filter. Available for free, no less.
One of the interesting questions raised by GoogleBooks has to do with what we might call scan recycling: POD publishers who just rip GoogleBooks scans, turn them into cheap paperbacks, and sell them. (Or, alternately, turn them into e-Books and sell them.) A colleague of mine told me today that some of the nineteenth-century German periodicals he had been consulting on GoogleBooks had vanished, only to be replaced by links to POD versions...which are now purportedly "copyrighted," even though the only thing the publisher has done is reprint the scan. For obvious reasons, this was a cause for concern, so I decided to see what was going on in my neck of the woods. I went looking for The Bulwark, and got these results:
Even after dickering around slightly with the search terms, I was only able to pull up five volumes of the journal, and only one of those five volumes was available in full text. The other four are inaccessible POD copies. But wait! Where are all the other copies of The Bulwark--like the ones in my library?
I was relieved to see that they were still all present and accounted for. Yet they don't appear in a general search. For example, a general search brings up only the POD copy of volumes one and two. However, going to the "About this Book" page of the single full-text search result and clicking on "other editions" brings up...you guessed it...the full text of those same volumes. This is not what I would call an efficient search protocol. I had similar results with the Christian Remembrancer: a general search pulled up only the POD of volume fifty-three, but fooling around with the "other editions" on one of the full-text results brought up a full view copy. (Looking at "other editions" of a POD version, incidentally, yielded only more POD "editions.") In both cases, the only way to pull up the full-text version in a general search was to specify the volume number in the search box (e.g., "'christian remembrancer' volume 53"). This limits the usefulness of GoogleBooks' search results for anyone trying to get a sense of what's actually available in the collection--how many people will know there's a volume fifty-three of the Christian Remembrancer?
Talk about fortuitous coincidences: Julia Gergits' "Created in Their Image" (IHE) appeared just one day after James McWilliams' "Technology and Tenure" (the NYT Freakonomics blog). Gergits examines how working at a regional comprehensive affects one's professional profile, especially when it comes to research and publishing; McWilliams suggests that, given the rise of electronic resources, perhaps it's time to intensify tenure requirements for the non-science types. Noting that his access to a specialized database had turned up all sorts of "obscure references," McWilliams comments that "while I think there are many downsides to relying too heavily,
or exclusively, on this form of research, there’s no doubt that it
allows the engaged scholar to pursue questions in a much more
streamlined (and inexpensive) manner." Ergo, he cautiously argues, "I think there’s a case to be made that a university’s tenure demands should keep pace with technological advances." Of course, McWilliams also admits in passing that his access to said specialized database wasn't quite legit: he "gained access through the account of a close friend who works at an institution with ivy on the walls."
This argument, when taken alongside Gergits' (quite good) essay, reinforces my suspicions that the New Golden Age of Electronic Research, far from subverting, transgressing, or doing any of those other popular verbs to the boundaries between Those Folks at R1s and Those Folks at Other Places, may well shore them up. My library does not subscribe to any of the major primary text databases in my field. Nor, at present, does it subscribe to all of the bibliographical resources I need to use, like the most recent incarnation of the RHS bibliography. (Needless to say, there was dancing in the streets when we at least managed to get our hands on Project Muse.) This could be because, well--let's just make a random guess, shall we?--we don't have the money to do this. (Actually, that's not a random guess: I used to be the department's library coordinator, and I know we don't have the money.) There is only one Ph.D. granting institution in the area, the University of Rochester, so if we're desperate, we can trek over there--although, in fact, they don't have that many subscription-only databases, either (my early modernist colleagues can get their hands on EEBO, at least). In other words, unless something is available online for free, I have no easy way of getting my hands on it. (Of course, I could always--wait for it--travel. Which kind of does in the savings, there.) If we're thinking about possible discrepancies between a scholar's profile at My Sort of Place and a potential job at a R1, then "let's hike publishing requirements!" only accelerates the discrepancies in question.
In and of itself, that's not an argument against McWilliams' position. However, as Gergits points out, R1s and comprehensives are already split when it comes to the very definition of scholarship. For example, as she notes, textbooks, which "garner little respect on the national academic market, count as
scholarship at YSU: they require research and careful writing, and they
can have a huge impact on the field through guiding and directing
students." (In the past, I've pointed out that there's much more freedom at a comprehensive like mine to write whatever actually interests you, which is how I've come to specialize in authors nobody else has ever read. The flip side: people ask me why on earth I'm writing about such things.) Obviously, schools with more $ will fund more research that involves spending $--I'm not railing at this state of affairs. But I am railing at attempts to discuss the New Golden Age of Electronic Research in ways that do not acknowledge how localized that Age is currently proving to be. Yes, we have more free stuff; we also have lots more stuff that only a few, relatively well-funded colleges can purchase. Somehow, I don't think piggy-backing on somebody else's account is going to be the approved wave of the future.
While reading Geoff Nunberg's...ah...crisp assessment of the current state of GoogleBooks metadata--with which I thoroughly agree--I discovered Hathi Trust Digital Library, which "was conceived as a collaboration of the thirteen universities of the Committee on
Institutional Cooperation and the University of California system to
establish a repository for these universities to archive and share
their digitized collections." Unfortunately, searching across texts (currently described as "experimental") is limited to OOC works. Right now, quite a lot of OOC works are limited to search-only; a quick test using "tale reformation" as the keywords turned up unviewable editions of very OOC novels like From Dawn to Dark in Italy. I'm spying some familiar problems with the metadata--Tales of the Persecuted, an undated collection published in Philadelphia, turns up with a date of 1800 (which is clearly wrong). And, as in GoogleBooks, there are orphaned volumes (e.g., Catherine Sinclair's triple-decker Cross Purposes). In books identified as search-only, the results indicate that there was a hit...but not what the hit was. Which, I have to say, is even less useful than GoogleBooks' much-loathed "snippet view." That being said, I prefer the screen layout. Books can be viewed as PDFs, text (somewhat cleaner than GoogleBooks' or the Internet Archive's plain text), or images.
It would be nice if the catalog search function would let users search by library.
It's too early to say much about the content, although there should be an incredible resource here once everything is uploaded and made available.