D-Lib Magazine
December 2000

Volume 6 Number 12

ISSN 1082-9873

Guest Commentary

The following commentary was selected by the managing editor as being in the interests of the general readership. This commentary presents the opinions of the author. It does not necessarily reflect the views of D-Lib Magazine, its publisher the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, or its sponsor.



The author of this commentary, Bob Bolick, is Vice-President and Director of New Business Development for McGraw-Hill Professional, a unit of McGraw-Hill Education, where his primary responsibilities are acquisitions and McGraw-Hill's growing ebooks business.
Currently, Bob represents McGraw-Hill to the Open Ebook Forum (OEBF) and the International Digital Object Identifier Foundation (IDF), for which he is the Treasurer. He is chairman of the Numbering Working Group on the Association of American Publisher's Task Force for Ebook Standards and vice-chairman of the OEBF's Data Rights Management Working Group.


Ebook Literacy

In Digital Literacy (Wiley, 1997), Paul Gilster pointed out that on the Web or in the world of the digital, we exercise a digital literacy -- a kind of literacy that calls on us to master graphical user interfaces, hyperlinking and hypermedia, search engines, search strategies, and the critical-thinking skill to construct meaning and understanding from the inchoate mass of information on the Internet.

In setting the stage for his observations, he also noted that print literacy is not merely the ability to read and write. It is reading and writing with meaning and understanding. It is a fundamental act of cognition. And it differs from what we do on the Web. "We read books, but we browse the Web."

Ebooks reassert the literacy of book reading in the environment of digital literacy even if imperfectly. Most ebooks are simply the transference of printed books to the screen, but their accessibility on the Web brings to the Web the authority of conventional media -- something the Web lacks, which Gilster acknowledged. The ebook also brings with it the sense that it is a whole thing in itself -- a book created by someone as something to stand on its own -- which is, in part, one of the drivers of its authority. Of course, no book stands alone. Novelists and poets stand on the shoulders of their precursors; professional and academic writers build works whose lights brighten, and are brightened by, the vast printed library whose context they cannot escape.

The real excitement will begin when ebooks are fully embedded in the Web or in pre-configured digital libraries, because the literacy of browsing, choosing, and searching will bring that other literacy -- the literacy of the book -- under the pressure of immediate contextuality. Ebooks will be portals to the Web and to each other instantly. Authors, publishers and readers will have to master "ebook literacy" -- a hybrid set of skills. The first "classic" of ebooks may be with us sooner than you think.

Robert Bolick
McGraw-Hill Companies



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DOI: 10.1045/december2000-editorial