In a thoughtful article by Robert Darnton published recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “The Chronicle Review”, Mr. Darnton explored and exposed, “5 Myths About the Information Age.”

To encapsulate, his five points are:

1. “The book is dead.”

2. “We have entered the information age.”

3. “All information is now available online.”

4. “Libraries are obsolete.”

5. “The future is digital.”

Focusing here on the death of the book, Darnton points to the increasing number of books being printed; every year more are printed than the year before. I agree that the book is not dead, but thriving.

Reading anything on digital devices has many physical, behavioral, and psychological limitations as well as advantages. At the very least, eye fatigue sets in even before the battery warning light starts scolding you. A digital summer read at the beach becomes fraught with hazards as sand starts creeping into your iPad and the glare has given you a crushing headache.

Will your pursuit of a great vacation read drive you indoors? Under the porch? Into the deep woods? Will you become a pasty white, reclusive figure forever lurking in the darker recesses of society in search of shadowy environs so you can catch, glare free, that illusive, perfectly crafted phrase? Digital readers are getting better at handling varied lighting conditions, but there are still challenges. Sand, wind, and water pose enough hazards to favor a paperback or a chapbook at the summer cabin.

Physical limitations typically set in before the brain goes south from the deathly, hollow prose of a poor choice. But when the brain pain does get too great, if you’ve got connectivity at your not so remote corner of the woods, then download another novel or the latest celebrity bio and read on.

And what about that obscure and annoying Latin phrase? It’s been forty-five years since your high school Latin class and how many references books to lesser known Greek gods do you store at your paradise retreat? Again, with connectivity, you can quickly determine who fell to the fates and married their mothers / fathers / brothers / sisters!

A quick reference lookup in Wikipedia is one thing. Finding your next great read is another. And how do those links get set within the digital text to make a reference lookup one click away? What about the increasing numbers of self-published works mentioned by Darnton? Where are they and how do you find them? Access Innovations has contributed, firsthand, to the move from paper to digital, the inextricable linking of the two, and the creation by necessity of their mutual dependencies. We created processes, policies, editorial guidelines, and strategies to create mutually supported digital/paper assets for a variety of content producers and we’ve done the dirty work of making it happen.

In converting paper to digital when there were no other options gave us a ringside seat – no, we were in the ring – to the massive projects that created the e-book world. It was imperative from the start that we solve the problem of both preserving physical structures in digital form, and also freeing content from the confines of the one-dimensional, printed page. Preserving structure is done by embedding markup, but this also does the job of freeing the content. Instead of the book or article paradigm, a knowledge object model becomes possible where a collection of well-structured (marked up) digital objects when collated and organized becomes a digital book or article. Print-on-demand morphs it back to paper. Those digital knowledge objects can then be disaggregated and reformed along a different topic or trend or thread.

Access Innovations makes heavy use of semantic modeling and digital design along with automation to mark up content whether in the conversion process from print to digital or from word processing formats to digital knowledge assets. Structure can be embedded automatically. Semantic enrichment is done automatically and simultaneously with the structure markup. “Aboutness” can be added using controlled vocabularies using our automated tools and processes.

The results can be a wonderfully symbiotic relationship between print and digital. With a well-crafted semantic strategy the two are mutually supported. Those obscure, self-published titles become easier to find. “More like these” recommendation engines like Access Innovation’s Data Harmony recommendation engine serve up possibilities that are more likely to result in sales and a better summer read whether digital or paper or, increasingly likely, both!

Jay Ven Eman, CEO
Access Innovations