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Are E-Books Unscholarly?

Are E-Books Unscholarly? July 16, 2013

I found myself feeling somewhat dismayed reading Michael E. Smith’s grumpy post about e-books at Publishing Archaeology.

One of his complaints is about the inability to cite a specific page number in e-books. He asks “Is it no longer considered important that a reader be able to cite a specific page number in a book?”

I think the answer is clearly “no.” If a resource is available digitally, then one can easily search for a phrase and find a reference. There is no need to cite a specific page number of an electronic resource.

Most of the rest of the post is complaining about some of the platforms used to deliver electronic content. Some of these are indeed clunky or lacking in necessary functionality. But the fact that I can instantly access a book or article more than makes up for those things, even though I too would love to see improvements.

So my own answer to the question in the title of this blog post would be “Absolutely not!” The earliest codex, I am sure, was not able to be seen as providing a definitive successor to the scroll. But it was. Transitional periods in technology can be frustrating to live in. But they are also exciting. The fact that research is so much easier, in terms of the logistics of getting access to primary and secondary source materials one needs, continues to take my breath away.

I get grumpy too sometimes, when things don’t work. But other scholars being grumpy about the fact that technology is changing, and simply preferring the old to the new, makes me even grumpier.

How do you feel about electronic publishing, DRM and platform-related issues, and the use of such materials for scholarly research?

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