FYI France

File 3: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler,

April 15, 2012 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on April 15, 2012 - and, a little later, on, and at Facebook-Jack Kessler's Notes

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to:

Here this file is one of a number made available - hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe - as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. And you can pay via PayPal, on the FYI France homepage:

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Ebooks ex-incunabula : standards, at last?


Friends in France have asked me what is the most exciting thing going on in US digital librarianship, these days, and I have told them it is EPub. That needs some explanation... It's "ebooks", a variant edition of the even more general "digital libraries" topic: EPub is an essentially industry-led effort to standardize all or most of the work of uploading all that invaluable stuff lurking on your hard disk, plus all your offline archives, & DVDs & CDs & floppies & tapes & the rest, & photos, & paper, onto the Internet -- the enormous & cavernous Online Digital World is out there, now, and it's hungry!

It's not an easy process, yet. But digital publication, and crucially its current development process, must be understood -- by anyone in publishing, or in libraries, or anyone with authorial intentions, pretensions, occupations, obligations...

The easiest and most interesting introduction to the "ebooks standards" topic I've found so far is provided by the Webinars offered online by NISO, the US standards organization: these Webinars can be viewed, and viewers even may participate, online from anywhere --

NISO is the US "National Information Standards Organization": every major nation has its standards outfit, some have several -- in France for example there is AFNOR, -- ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, is the umbrella group, -- and all I'm sure are worrying over ebooks now, but I'm not sure that anyone else is doing a better job yet at explaining all this and inviting public participation, than is NISO.

So I suggest these NISO Webinars to all of you: not only because they are out there on the cusp of controversy -- "ebooks", "metadata", the question of the online digital survival of "the book as a thing" as versus "the text" -- but also because these online NISO resources are reached easily online, by someone in France or elsewhere, either for research and simple lurking and contemplation, or even for active participation via Skype and Cisco's latest and very elegant Cisco econferencing software --

* NISO is at,

* and NISO's 2012 online offerings are at,

-- librarians in France can participate in these! -- en américain peut-être, mais... --

* the NISO 2012 Webinar schedule still includes,


* Also, and I think invaluable to librarians outre-Atlantique and elsewhere whose English & l'américain may be "rusty", the NISO Webinar archives are online, and they include full session audio tapes & presenter slides & even live-participant-chat-discussion records -- I myself am in these somewhere :-) -- the event in which I just participated, not as a presenter altho I did ask some questions, is described with its slides and some Questions & Answers / Q&A at the following links --


* The NISO Webinars appear generally to follow a standard format of including representatives of industry and actual user institutions -- formal presentations, by such people, with slides -- and then Q&A conducted via chat. The presentations assume some prior knowledge, but there is enough intro done by each presenter to provide at least the general context to anyone remotely familiar with the general problem involved. At the same time, though, there is not too much topic-drift, the great enemy of most online discussion of these things: these NISO Webinar presenters are professionals, so your time will not be wasted in hearing what they have to say -- those I heard in these two sessions were very concise and detailed and on point.

* Costs: live participation in these NISO Webinars is not free-of-charge, access to the 2 sessions described above cost US$179, $74 for a student -- but that was "per site", so several participants gathered around someone's big iMac, or a screencast in a nice meeting room, or at a comfortable-if-noisy cafe table somewhere, may join in, sharing costs. The outline & slides, and the Q&A, both apparently are free-of-charge, online; a password is required for hearing the audio archives, but I suggest NISO may provide that free-of-charge as well, at least to some, upon application to them.




A Note... though... about "standardizing" things:

I am somewhat of a sceptic, about NISO's and other standards efforts generally, myself. I am not certain that there is not a category-mistake at work, in fact, in standards development here: that if a "book" is what is sought, in information search & retrieval, then copious metadata about that object understandably may be useful, yes -- but if what is being sought nowadays is a "text", an æthereal thing sometimes contained in a book but increasingly not, then metadata assisting in the search for a book may be "un ange qui passe" -- exactly like, yes, the visiting newly-minted & presumably-US philosopher standing in Carfax, at the middle of Oxford, and demanding, "But where is the university?" -- see Gilbert Ryle & Jonathan Miller, both, on that...

The standards groups -- NISO, ISO, AFNOR, the many others -- may represent our best chance for eventually establishing some order in the current chaos surrounding ebooks, then.

For now it seems the commercial folks rule, with their secrets and competing approaches and furious incompatibilities. I remember the similar "protocol wars" of the early Internet, where tcp/ip fought against OSI. And we all remember the earlier famous rivalries of Messrs. Steve Jobs & Bill Gates. Only the Paranoid Survive, was what Intel chief Andy Grove entitled his memoirs book about that ferocious era. The ebook is in its own such critically-incunabular(?) phase now.

Eventually things do settle down and "standards" do win -- the EPub standard is our current best hope for that -- these NISO Webinars present and discuss that topic simply and thoroughly.

What happens, however, if our current Age of Digital Incunabula, unlike the 15th c. Age of Print Incunabula, does not adopt the book container used by the text paradigm which preceded it? Gutenberg's printed work was crafted to resemble the manuscript formats of his own era -- but already and increasingly the "texts" used by modern readers look and feel and act nothing like "books".

There is little resemblance, in other words, between two phenomena: 1) a multimedia online digital "texts" search & reading session through, say, Wikipedia plus a cellphone / mobile Web browse plus several online Webinars & econferences & downloaded course-reader pdf selections all supplemented with a few music clips & videos from YouTube..., and, 2) the albeit-thorough read-through of a single or even several cardboard & paper printed "books".

So which of the above two is being done more by users, now? It depends, somewhat, on which users... To me it appears that, most places, the younger generation(s) and active workers -- professionals, of any sort -- do #1 above, now, nearly entirely, while only the elders and those with much leisure time do much of #2.

And so all the attention devoted exclusively to e"books", of any design or format, may be misplaced: the market may have moved on, to "texts" irrespective of their containers -- and thus precise definition of "book"-style formats and metadata and the rest, imitating the printed-book format with which fewer and fewer of us really are familiar, may be an idea the time of which has past. The young student being guided through the reference room by the librarian is said to have remarked, when shown the multi-volume ancient leather-bound encyclopedia-set, "Whoa, you mean somebody actually downloaded the entire thing?!"

But then maybe all this is just a realignment: maybe, instead of either 100% "texts" formats versus 100% "books" formats, we are headed for some new balance, perhaps 60/40, or 80/20, maybe there always will be "books"... digital or otherwise...

Such, anyway, perhaps is, or appears to be, the dream of the e"books" people. Kudos then to them for trying...

I happen to be of a generation and by persuasion raised on book formats, and I love to see the mise-en-page and page-turning properties of e"books" -- to me it is fun, and importantly it gets me "involved" with the text, to highlight, and scribble notes, and jump from Table of Contents to Chapters and back, in downloaded files from my Kindle & iBooks & GoogleBooks collections, and do all the other tricks already enabled greatly by standards such as EPub.

But to others, perhaps younger and less book-bound than me, it may be cumbersome and, even worse, unnecessary... "Whoa, you mean somebody actually downloaded the entire thing?!"... that young student may find the elaborate arrangements and conventions of the old "book" paradigm to be unnecessary, in a multimedia & interactive & essentially-immediate online digital etext world...

But it's an Age of Incunabula, one even more adventurous than that of the 15th century, so nowadays, both virtually and In Reality, anything can happen.


Jack Kessler,



      FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal ISSN 1071-5916
            |        FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic
            |        journal published since 1992 as a small-scale,
            |        personal experiment, in the creation of large-
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