Of the many features offered by Google’s new eBooks service–access to 3 million+ titles (many in the public domain), cloud storage and synchronization, broad cross-platform and device compatibility–the one that is perhaps most significant for researchers is Google’s unique pagination scheme that preserves the original numbering of the print edition.
Unlike its competitors, whose “virtual” page numbers change every time you resize the text, Google has developed a unique solution that creates a referential continuum between the print edition and the digital version of a book. They offer readers the option of viewing the actual scanned page (in addition to the “flowing text” display) and show the book’s original page numbers, so that even if you have the text set to very small, it adjusts the range (Ex. “pages 153-156″).
This simple feature may sound insignificant, but the impact for researchers (particularly in the humanities and social sciences where historical research is critical) is enormous. Regardless of whether students are consuming content using pixels or paper, they still need to meaningfully interpret and engage with the historical discourse surrounding their particular research topic. Page references, quotations, footnotes, works cited, annotated bibliographies–the basic ingredients that for centuries have defined how scholars communicate, demonstrate evidence, and develop argumentation–continue to be essential for today’s scholars, even as they explore new modes of inquiry that rely on “born digital” sources and online tools for experimentation and analysis. We are still, unfortunately, not in that Tron-like age when the bibliographic universe has been seamlessly woven together with full-text links to every scholarly article, book, data set, map, dissertation, etc. Without a doubt, good progress is being made on many fronts, but, until we get there, we need the right page numbers!
Google eBooks certainly still has a long way to go to fulfill the promise that digitized books have for today’s scholars. Unlike the Kindle and Apple’s iBooks platforms, Google’s service currently offers no option for adding even basic notes, highlighting text, adding bookmarks or looking up word definitions. It’s probably a safe bet that these and other features of interest to teachers and students will be rolled out in future releases of the application. In the meantime, at least “digital natives” can feel confident that their “print edition profs” will be able to locate their citations!