Week 3: Difference of Digitization

When thinking of  a digitized object that impacted my experience of with am object the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Audiobook read by Stephen Fry comes to mind. I have read the original books awhile ago but while listening to the audiobooks my experience with the story was impacted in several different ways. Firstly the reader made choices as to which words to emphasis and how to pronounce them. At times the vocal choices the reader made were different from my original interpretation, changing my perception of the meaning of the words. Secondly, Stephen Fry read the book at a faster rate then I read. Generally, I read slowly as I imagine the scenes as I go and may pause to consider something I have read. When listening to the story I was not able to imagine or pause as I normally would. Lastly the audiobook version I was listening to did not save the place where one was listening to and thus every time I returned to I had to find my place. It felt very similar to loosing your bookmark when reading a book. While frustrating it made me wonder why this was not considered in the design and interrupted the flow of the story.

Though little dressed in scholarly research, several debates exist surrounding the benefits of reading versus listening to an audiobook. While some argue that the experiences to be cognitively similar, this is dependent on the type of story and lacks the emotional connection prevalent in holding a physical artifact (Khazan, 2011). Often these formats are experienced  differently, as audiobooks are associated with multitasking and books remaining stationary and focused. User interaction with audiobooks may be reflected in the choices the creator/ reader makes. Stories can move quicker as a listener driving to work may not need to reflect on the story as those sitting on their couch. Therefore users may come to expect differences their experience with a story whether a book or and audiobook.



Khazan, Olga. (2011). Is Listening to Audio Books Really the Same as Reading? Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/olgakhazan/2011/09/12/is-listening-to-audio-books-really-the-same-as-reading/#2a22090576df

Week 2: JPod by Douglas Coupland

One book that has made a lasting impression on me in terms of its materiality has been Douglas Coupland’s JPod. As the story engages with the digital world of video game programmers, so does the format, pushing the boundaries between print and the digital.

There are a number of unusual characteristics that are in conversation with the digital text. There are continuous streaming sentences right on the insides of the book covers and first pages (which are usually left blank) in a Helvetica-esque modern looking sans serif font (Figure 1.).

IMG_5624 Figure 1.

There are also just pages that list numbers and computer code. At one point in the book a character locates a website that generates the first hundred thousand digits of pi and Coupland subsequently lists them page after page. The book even sets up the reader to engage with the story as if it were setting up a video game, giving the reader the option to “Play as Gene Simmons” or “Play as Iron Man” among the prefatory pages. Among  these pages, one cleverly fuses print and the digital and simply says: “Click Here” (Figure 2.). This particular example stood out for me because it implies an action on the reader’s behalf, a reference to a totally different type of reading experience that can’t be explored in print, and yet is cheekily employed here.

IMG_5627 Figure 2.

The sense of self aware hybridity is especially intriguing as it serves to further Emphasize Matthew Kirschenbaum and Sarah Werner’s discussion of how “all books today are ‘born digital’ in the sense that at some point in their composition, editing, layout and printing they become (re)configured as data objects” (41). JPod works in almost the opposite sense, seeking to make the reader self aware of the book as digital in ways it can’t typically be. The aforementioned title page, encourages the reader to think of the narrative of the story in a leaping hyperlink sort of way, jumping to the next page instead of turning it. This serves the purpose of making the reader aware of how they read in different environments. It also serves to further blur the lines between the print and digital dichotomy bringing the migratory nature of text into the spotlight.


Coupland, Douglas. JPod. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2007. Print

Kirschenbaum, Matthew and Sarah Werner. “Digital Scholarship and   Digital Studies: The State of the Discipline”. Book History, Volume 17, 2014: 406-458. Online Journal.


Week 2

When I first read the blog question for this week, I could’t think of a book to discuss. After reading some of your earlier posts, a few childhood pop-up books and the like came to mind, but nothing in my memory really stuck out. However, when I went back to my notes on the Kirschenbaum and Werner reading, a light bulb turned on and I almost yelled “Eureka!”. Werner discusses annotations made by authors and readers, and the influence such annotations have on the content of the book. Werner also touches on  Annotated Books Online, the digital archive of early modern annotated books.

It was Werner’s discussion of annotation that brought to mind the Northrop Frye collection found at the E.J. Pratt Library at UofT. The collection includes material that was annotated by the literary scholar, among other items. It is interesting to note that is it not the books that give the collection its rarity but the annotations within these books that give them their true value. Frye’s personal thoughts are hand written between the margins of these books, giving them an additional dimension and influence, if not change, the meaning presented by the original author of the books.

This collection also came to mind because the annotations within the books pose a challenge for some forms of digital reading. I work for the Accessible Content E-Portal, as service offered by OCUL that provides digitized scans of materials for students with accessibility needs, offering these books in a variety of accessible formats. When selecting materials to scan for this service, I look for books with no marginalia. In cases where there has been marginalia made with a pencil, I am required to remove this marginalia so that it does not interfere with the OCR’s ability to translate the content of the PDF into a text format. However, removing these annotations is upsetting to some users who want to have the same experience as other readers, including the flow of thoughts of pervious readers. The additional dimension added with annotations is unobtainable for these users, and they cannot experience the affect they have on the original material.

If you would like more information about the Northrop Frye collection, please visit this website.

If you are interested in the ACE project, there is more information found here.


XXL Book

It may not sound very exciting, but I picked a book that was simply bigger than most other books.

Actually, it’s quite a bit bigger. It’s Seth’s  graphic novel – or to use the author’s term, “a picture novella” – entitled George Sprott: (1894-1975)Check out the image below for a side-by-side match-up with a book of more common proportions.

Photo by author.
Photo by author.

Okay, so why is this interesting? I’ve jotted down my commentary into two sections: (1) practical issues and (2) the reading experience.

Practical Issues

  • The book is too big to fit on most shelves – either at home or in institutions. I happen to own the book, but it has been exiled to a closet rather than my bookshelves. At the library I volunteer for, this book would not be eligible for acquisition because it can’t fit on any of the shelves. So, despite its large size which at first seems to make it its own poster, the book is surprisingly unmarketable – either at home or at libraries and, I imagine, at bookstores.
  • Reading this book simply requires a lot of space. A “subway read” this is not. It is decidedly not portable. This is especially the case with the pull-out pages shown in the image below.
  • Not unlike a large print version of a book, some of the pages are easier to read. Everything is blown up. Other pages, like the ones in the image below, can be packed with more content, including as many as seven rows of panels.
Photo by author.

The Reading Experience

  • One part of me feels like a child when reading a book that shares dimensions that you might associate with Clifford The Big Red Dog. Because Seth’s book, geared at adults, shares the form of some children’s books, it kind of feels like one. (This is enhanced by the board book-esque cover.)
  • Another part of me feels like a veritable grown-up when reading this book. That’s because the large format reminded me of an coffee table art book. The sheer size of the pages made me more conscious of the visuals and physicality of the book. Personally, this made me less immersed in the story because the the unusual format was distracting. Of course, that could be the point.
  • Until companies release some kind of ereader projector, any “big book experience” would be hard to recreate on an ereader’s relatively limited range of physical dimensions. (Maybe the new, large screen iPad Pro would be a close approximation.)


Seth. George Sprott: (1894-1975). New York: Drawn & Quarterly, 2009

Week 2: Form Effects Meaning

I recently read The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal by Kate Elliott, a chapbook companion to Elliott’s Spiritwalker Trilogy, with which I am completely in love. The trilogy focuses on the adventures of two cousins, Catherine (Cat) and Beatrice (Bee). The story is told from Cat’s point of view, so the Secret Journal retells the story from Bee’s perspective using the medium of her sketchbook.

The book is visually beautiful, with 29 black-and-white illustrations by the award-winning fantasy artist Julie Dillon. The pictures and text overlap physically, giving the impression that the book is being written and drawn at the same time. But, the best part is the accompanying discussion between the two cousins written on and around the main text. As you read the Journal, it becomes clear that it is being written, drawn, edited, rewritten, and discussed at the same time. This is facilitated by the use of three different fonts: one for the main text, one for Cat’s notes, and one for Bee’s responses to her. The result is an immersive experience in the world of the books that is also a character study of the two protagonists.

Bee’s sketchbook is an integral part of her character, and it only makes sense for her story to be written within its pages. But the marginalia adds an authenticity to the reading experience. One important use of Bee’s sketchbook is as a facilitator of conversation between her and her cousin in which they write notes back and forth. By including this detail, the chapbook functions as both an addition to the overall story and an artifact from within the story.

Kate Elliott talks about the process behind making the Secret Journal: http://thebooksmugglers.com/2013/10/the-secret-journal-of-beatrice-hassi-barahal-kate-elliott-on-fan-art-giveaway.html

The Journal can be found here in PDF: http://www.kateelliott.com/index.php?pageID=53

form, function, and affairs of the heart


Ram Dass. (1971). Be here now. New Mexico: Hanuman Foundation.

I find this question tricky to answer… I am a self-professed lover of printed books (the whole look, feel, smell – sensory interaction thing). I find it nearly impossible to read texts through a screen (whether computer or e-reader). This bias is hard to avoid when it comes to evaluating the relationship between a text’s form and its meaning. I have a large home library – for me, printed, physical, very ‘present’, non-virtual books, they carry weight. They take up space, they have an emotional significance, and they are invested with meaning and memory. Almost no book more so than my copy of Ram Dass’ Be Here Now. Heavily used, well-loved, traveled, annotated, dog-eared, and bookmarked – it stands as a testament to my own personal and spiritual development over many years. When I see its iconic blue cover, I can remember glancing at it for the first time in Seekers Books on Bloor. The shredded bits of paper ephemera mark pages that have had particular resonance for me, some of which I have photocopied and pasted onto walls of houses past.

The middle section of the book, the thickest and most substantial, is recognizable by its illustrations printed on brown craft paper. The pages themselves are tactile – they have texture, roughness, weight. They flip and unfold. The pages of my copy have warped with moisture over time, giving them additional dimension. To read this section, the book must be turned vertically, and read like a scroll – with text and image blending seamlessly across both pages. Reading this book is an immersive experience.

Amazon tells me that you can purchase Be Here Now in e-book form, as an ‘enhanced edition’, including guided video meditations, a video retrospective of Ram Dass’ journey, as well as a copy of the first chapter of his latest book, Be Love Now.

I guess the issue here is this – I can’t imagine the physical form of this book being easily replicated in digital form, considering what would be ‘lost’. Perhaps this comes back to the issue, as Johanna Drucker puts it, to do with e-book design itself: “rather than thinking about simulating the way a book looks, then, designers might do well to consider extending the way a book works” (2009, 166). So, how would Be Here Now work digitally? Or, to put it differently, since it clearly already exists in digital form – how would it work for me? My web browsing has led me to a website where someone has scanned and uploaded each individual page of the book, and so, rather than flip through successive pairs of pages, the reader can simply scroll continuously (see: http://beherenow.dc7.us/corebook00.htm#THE HEART CAVE) – how does this affect/effect a different meaning?

I was fascinated to read Matthew Kirschenbaum and Sarah Werner describe the symbiotic potential between digital and physical forms of book production: “digital media cohabitate with the codex, not just in close physical proximity…but occupying conceptually coterminous textual and narrative space” (2014, 443). They note, too, that computers are “responsible for key aspects of what we might think of as a widespread renaissance in the appreciation of the book as material object” (2014, 445-446).

Similarly, Drucker suggests that “by looking to scholarly work for specific understanding of attitudes toward the book as literal space and virtual espace, and to artists and poets for evidence of the way the spaces of a book work, we realize that the traditional codex is also, in an important and suggestive way, already virtual” (2009, 174). Claims such as this help disrupt and broaden my understanding of the terms ‘physical’, ‘literal’, ‘virtual’, or ‘digital’, and what constitutes a ‘book’ or ‘bookishness’.

While I can’t imagine my experience with this text as distinct from the physical form that holds and delivers it, I can begin to think in new ways about how exactly Be Here Now communicates meaning, and how – while my own experience of it is deeply personal – through reading it in different systems and platforms, new readers might encounter a completely different effected/affected meaning – and I concede, that’s kinda neat.

On meaning, form & function

Bodach, V. & Logan, L. (2015). Ten Easter eggs. Scholastic: New York.

I left last Monday’s class thinking about the relationship between bibliographic form and meaning. What print books would be impossible to translate in a digital form without losing meaning integral to the text? An answer to this question was literally handed to me the next evening by a young girl during my shift at the Cobourg Public Library. She presented me with one of the library’s board books, Ten Easter Eggs, concerned it had been broken. For those unfamiliar with children’s library collections, a board book refers to a book designed for infants and toddlers with stiff, cardboard pages. In our readings this week Kirschenbaum and Werner write (2014) “… most digitizations focus on the value of the object as a text to be read” (p.419), board books are objects with value extending beyond their printed text. As a result, digitization of board books is difficult to achieve without losing meaning essential to the object.

Board books are designed not only to be read. Manufactured with durable materials, they allow for use specific to the developmental stage of infants: the reader may put the book in their mouth, or grab it by one page and wave it around. Ten Easter Eggs is an interesting board books as its pedagogical function extends beyond the lessons of the text (such as counting to ten, and simple addition and subtraction) to sensorial learning.

The book contains ten three-dimensional eggs. For example, page one contains one 3D egg and nine egg shaped cut-out holes, which reveal the other nine eggs contained in the book. As the page is flipped, a fuzzy chick made with felt is revealed below the egg. Page three now contains nine eggs and one felt chick. The verso pages contain egg-shaped holes. This process continues until ten felt chicks are revealed. This design allows the reader to explore the book with their hands, feeling the holes, the felt chicks and the smooth 3D eggs. This sensory experience could not be replicated in a digitized version of the text. Furthermore, eBook platforms such as eReaders or tablets are not designed for children to put them in their mouths or throw them around. As a result, the child’s relationship to the object would be shaped by greater caution in a digital format (enforced, most likely, by adults) and as a result, would look quite different.

I mentioned earlier this book was handed to me by a young library patron. She was concerned because several of the 3D eggs had been “punched-in” by previous readers, rendering their shape less than egg-like. Rather than understanding the book as damaged, this can be read as a productive interaction between the reader and the text-object. Through using the book in a way it was not designed to be used (applying great pressure to the eggs) the child reader has the ability to change the shape of the egg, creating a very different sensory experience for future readers. In this way the text effects meaning unintended by its designers.

Impact of the Format of a Book

The last time I remember being truly impacted by the format of a book was a couple years ago when I was still a preschool teacher. It was a a distinctly difficult rainy day, leaving the whole class was stuck inside and rather restless. I was doing a lesson on farms and farm animals and had borrowed a board-book on farms from the public library. The book was interactive, involved having children answer questions, count, look underneath and pull tabs and search for animals. My students were incredibly engaged the entire lesson, increased cognitive development on many topics and encouraged their love of reading. After the lesson many students remained in the reading area to re- read the book and other books. This made for a much more relaxed and organized environment. Therefore, the interactive format of the board- book had a very positive impact on both my day, my students’ day and their experience with learning. I do wonder how children’s books will be impacted by the increasingly digital age, when children at the age of three already know how to play games on an iPad?

If anyone wishes to know more information on the positive cognitive developments of reading on children you may find the following webpage interesting.  http://www.earlychildhoodteacher.org/blog/encouraging-preschoolers-cognitive-development-with-books-and-shared-reading/.


Hello Everyone!

My name is Isabel Fine and I’m in my second year at the iSchool doing an MI in the LIS stream. I did my B.A. at UofT. I started off with a Major in English and Minors in Near and Middle Eastern Studies and History, but I kept shaving off Minors as I went and ended up doing a Specialist in English. Mostly I love books and reading, so it suited me well.

I work as a Page in the Toronto Public Library system. While I love the public library and what it stands for, overexposure to the public has made me interested in other forms of librarianship. I still don’t know what kind of librarian I want to be when I grow up, but I definitely want to be one.

I took Rare Books and Manuscripts last term and I thought this course would be a nice follow-up. It seems like the history of the book is changes in format or medium accompanied by outcries about the end of civilization. It’s happened before and it’s happening now. I’m excited to learn about how books will fare in the digital world and how this new medium will change the experience of reading.