A little-discussed but valuable part of Google Books is the About this book page. This is sort of like an enhanced card catalog view of the book — In addition to standard bibliographic data, it also has a variety of other useful information. For books with pictures an especially valuable part of this page is the Selected pages section, which has thumbnails for a selection of pictures in the book.

The About page is especially useful for full-view books, for which it has a wide variety of information, including popular passages, references from web pages & scholarly works, other editions, related books, & places mentioned  (linked to Google Maps).

The About page is in strong contrast to the frontcover screen in full-view books, which is what’s linked from the main title entry for titles listed on the search results page. For full-view books Frontcover usually goes to the title-page of the book, which in most cases is much less useful than the About page.

In Limited-preview and Snippet-view books, the About page usually has much less information than in full-view books (This is apparently controlled by the publisher of the book). In these books, the Frontcover view really does go to the frontcover of the book, which, of course, is usually a colorful, exciting picture.

Interestingly, the basic URL for entries in Google Books, that just has the generic base + the ID number for the specific book, goes to the About this book screen …


The URL for the frontcover screen then builds on this basic address …

… Which seems to imply that on some level the designers of Google Books see the About screen as the more basic, elemental unit for the book.

I Just came across an old but still current article by Roy Tennant — Digital Libraries- The Other E-Books — written in 2001. Tennant says:

When People refer to e-books, they typically mean device-dependent e-books (ER: bold added, see below) such as those marketed by Gemstar (ER: a long-gone pre-Kindle reader) … The term infrequently seems to encompass efforts by libraries, universities, or others to publish e-books on the net for free.

Writing three years before Google Books launched, Tennant seems prophetic — I thought I was being rather original ;-) in my posting of last week — Are Google Books eBooks? — but Tennant made an inroad into the discussion long ago! Of course, what Tennant refers to as “libraries, universities, or others” has now turned into Google Books.

Meta-story – How I stumbled on this article – In thinking about how to refer to different types of ebooks, I wanted to try out the term “device dependent ebook,” so I Googled it, and Voila! — I saw that Roy’s 2001 article was #1 >> Google search: device dependent ebook

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

What are eBooks? WikiPedia says an eBook is “the digital media equivalent of a conventional printed book … usually read on a PC or … an e-book reader.”

This sounds like what Peter Brantley calls “the older model” of eBooks that are “downloadable and packaged … into dedicated readers.” The newer idea that Brantley suggests, in contrast, is of eBooks that will be “consumed over the network.”

In common usage, Google Books are not usually considered to be in the category of eBooks (The Wikipedia eBooks article linked above doesn’t mention Google). In Brantley’s language, though — eBooks being used on the network — I would suggest that full-view books in Google Books are in fact eBooks.

The eBook meme does seem to be changing — There’s indication that the term eBook is coming to be applied to Google Books — A recent Christian Science Monitor article on Google Books, refers to them in the title as “e-books.” The article quotes prominent blogger Siva Vaidhyanathan to the effect that Google is coming to dominate “the digital book world,” with the clear implication (with “e-Book” being in the article title) that Google Books are in the category of eBooks.

Browser-worthy small-scale devices like the iPhone and the G1/Google phone/Android make it increasingly likely that Google Books will be put in the same category as dedicated e-book services like the Amazon Kindle. Especially for reading books that have pictures, reading Google books in a browser is clearly preferable to using the Kindle, which does not even have color.

Maps and newspapers, because they’re rich in graphic information, benefit greatly from a zooming and panning interface. Text-only books, because they’re more linear and because text is easily searchable, don’t benefit from this sort of interface as much, but books with pictures certainly do.

zKimmer.com has recently implemented Google Maps technology for viewing non-map text and picture resources, such as magazines and newspapers, which are converted from PDF format. This is an exciting development especially because it holds promise that the same sort of technology could also be used for books.

With Google’s great success using a zooming-panning interface in Google Maps, and having recently launched Google Newspapers which also uses it, the question naturally occurs — Will Google developers sooner or later also use it for Google Books?

The zKimmer screen-shots above are from a magazine (though they could easily be from a book) and those below are from a newspaper. They both show how this interface facilitates navigating a resource that includes extensive pictures as well as text.

zKimmer lacks a good search capability (it has a search box, but it doesn’t seem to work) — So it’s not ready for heavy-duty enterprise use — It’s exciting, though, because it shows the potential value of a zooming-panning interface for books. Google Books already uses panning and zooming in a limited way, for navigating between pages, but a multi-page pan and zoom, as in zKimmer, would greatly simplify picture and text navigation.

Other implementations of the Google Maps API for non-map graphic resources are a desktop collection of elegant books by the reclusive German techno-artist Markus Dressen, and a card set from the World Of Warcraft.

Suzanne Chapman, at userslib.com, has the interesting tag Pageturners. This term has been used to describe eBook systems that allow the user to have the feel of actually turning the pages of a print book, by clicking an icon or by using the mouse to mimic the motion of turning a paper page.

Like Chapman, I’ve thought of “Pageturners” as a sub-category of eBooks, and have searched in Google for the concept/term. It turns out this is a difficult search term because it gets confused with use of the word to describe “a book so good you can’t put it down.” So use of the word to describe an eBook is, in a way, a cute play on words, but Google doesn’t do well with double-meanings!

Aside from the difficulty of searching, though, the concept is a valid one, and it’s useful to have Chapman’s links on it, especially in this posting and in her Delicious links.

Actually, I think I can see in Chapman’s lists that the meaning of the term has evolved in her mind, and I suspect also in the shared mind of the Net. In what seem to be her earlier links, the sites she links really were “pageturner” eBook systems, which tried to simulate the feel of turning pages in a print book. But other, seemingly later, links seem to broaden the concept to include eBook viewing systems that get away from the idea of simulating print books.

Likewise, on the Net generally, at first it seemed like the goal in designing eBooks was to make them feel as much as possible like print books. But as we get used to the idea of eBooks, it becomes clear, I think, that the best way to design eBooks is not the best way to design print books. Print books have advantages, and eBooks have different advantages. The real challenge of designing eBooks is how to convey their nature and content in the small amount of screen space of a computer window.

In thinking about the presentation of an eBook that features pictures, Google Books, I think, has established the principle that the intro screen for the eBook should communicate clearly that the eBook has pictures …

… Which is not to say that the Google Books About this book – Intro screen is perfect. But for now it has set the standard.

PS to Suzanne Chapman: Thanks for confirming my idea that “Pageturners” is a good tag — I’m adding it too. Though I think it’s an “old design” idea for eBooks, I suspect it will continue to be around for a while more.

Finding a heavily illustrated book that’s in both Google Books (GBS) and Internet Archive (IA) gives a good comparison of the strengths and weaknesses in the way illustrated books are presented in these systems.

Shown below are the “intro” pages for the book in the 2 systems. The clear advantage of the GBS intro page is that the sample thumbnails in the lower right make it immediately obvious that the book has COLOR pictures of good quality.

In Internet Archive the main job of intro screen (below) is to direct the user to options to view the book, in the box in the upper left, and there’s no indication that the book contains pictures.

Even after pulling up the DjVu option to view the book — which is a tricky matter, see how to do it here — there’s no intro screen at all in DjVu, just an imposing blank page waiting for the user to change display options or begin paging through the book sequentially.

DjVuIt’s when the user chooses display options and begins viewing the book that the advantages of DjVu become evident. The most important option, especially if pictures are an important part of the book, as they are in the Mracek Atlas book shown here, is to turn on the thumbnail display bar (at left) by clicking the icon in the lower right corner of the DjVu display window. It then becomes easy to scroll through the thumbnails and get a good view of the nature of the pictures in the book, and how they relate to the text. In the Mracek Atlas, it happens that the first third of the book is all text, and the last two-thirds is mostly pictures, so the user can scroll to the pictures easily.

Use of thumbnails is a good way to provide access to pictures in a book. But as simple and obvious as it is, thumbnail access is lacking in most e-book systems, so both GBS and DjVu are to be applauded for providing it, in their different ways. Here’s a comparison of the two systems …

In GBS, the About this book page gives immediate thumbnail access to a maximum of 30 pictures. Additional pictures have no thumbnail access, and can only be found by scrolling through pages or text searching.

DjVu has the disadvantage of having no Intro page that gives an overview of pictures in the book. But when the user knows how to set the display options, it provides good thumbnail access to an unlimited number of pictures. In a book like he Mracek Atlas, with over 100 pictures, this is a definite advantage.

Postscript: It wasn’t easy to find a book that’s in both GBS and IA, so I was especially pleased to find the Mracek Atlas discussed here that has pictures in Hardin MD! The full citation for the book is: Atlas of diseases of the skin, by Franz Mracek, 1899 [GBS | IA]

New York Public Library is a rich source of digital resources, both text and images. This is especially interesting because they have done an excellent job in making connections from the library catalog (CATNYP) to digitized resources.

Because NYPL is an active participant in Google Books, their recent text digitization efforts seem to have gone into this. They’ve done a good job of making links from CATNYP to the books from their collection that have been digitized for Google Books.

A searchable list of all NYPL’s Google Books in CATNYP (32000 titles) is here ….

To search a subset of this, add a keyword, either in the address bar directly …
… or add a keyword in the search box.

It’s helpful to have this easy access to NYPL books that are in Google Books through CATNYP, but it’s surprising that the CATNYP record gives no information indicating the print version from which the Google Books version has been digitized. Here’s an example of a book title found in CATNYP, with separate entries for the Google Books and print versions, with neither record linking to the other.

While NYPL’s book digitization efforts seem to be concentrated in Google Books, they continue to do their own image digitization work. As with Google Books, they do a nice job of making links in CATNYP, from the catalog records of books from which they’ve digitized images to the images in the Digital Gallery. The screen-shots below show an example :


This shows links between the CATNYP record for the book American medical botany to the images from the book in the NYPL Digital Gallery.

I see on pages in the Digital Gallery that they’re working on a “new look” for Gallery pages. Here’s the new look for Gallery pages for American medical botany. It’s an improvement in many ways, more streamlined, but doesn’t seem to have a link back to the record for the book in CATNYP.

From the Digital Gallery IT Architecture and Delivery : “Runs on an open, extensible architecture … managed through an Oracle database … ColdFusion software provides the application programming interface that integrates metadata and images for web delivery…”