Channeling Guttenberg: eBooks Online, on your Pod, and in your Hand (Hypertext Student Newsletter)

The sight of students hunched over from the weight of their burgeoning backpacks can cause one to wonder if students are preparing for a cross-country camping adventure instead of just heading to class. The backbreaking textbooks, readers, and literature required for campus classes literally place a double burden on college students. Not only do books weigh down students physically, but unfortunately they also lighten students' wallets. If you are among those who lug a knapsack full of books around every quarter, you may be wondering if there is an easier way to handle all the hefty reading. For many students, the answer is yes.

Although textbooks have yet to be digitally transcribed, many works of literature are available as "eBooks". Invented in 1971, eBooks are Web page or text document adaptations of literature. Both formats allow users to read books digitally, word-search, or scroll through a document. While eBooks may not come in handy when your professor asks the class to turn to a specific page in the text, they do make for lightweight and inexpensive portable libraries suitable for academic or recreational reading. eBooks can be read on your computer via a Web site or specialized software, or transferred to your iPod or PDA for on-the-go reading.

eBooks on Your Computer Screen

eBooks are most frequently available as downloadable text files or integrated into Web sites. These files are written in ASCII, a plain-text format that cannot display symbols or accented letters. The simplicity of ASCII ensures that all American computers can correctly process and display the text. As such, you do not need any special software to read an eBook. However, several software companies distribute eBook-related software, which reformat the text file to resemble a real book. Two popular and useful eBook reader programs are Microsoft Reader ( and Adobe Acrobat eBoo k Reader ( Both are available free and are not required for reading eBooks online.

Audiobooks and eBooks for the iPod

iPods are notoriously known for their ability to crank out your favorite tunes, but two of the lesser-publicized functions of iPods are their proficiency at displaying eBooks and holding audiobooks. Both options provide students with alternate ways of studying literature or reading a favorite novel. What??'s more, special software can provide students with the option to create eBooks from class notes. To purchase an audiobook for your iPod, open your iTunes library and select the audiobooks search function in the iTunes Music Store. If you are interested in transcribing notes or text into an eBook for your iPod, visit the Make Zine eBook creation tutorial at .

PDA: Big Books on the Little Screen

Similar to the iPod but often with a much bigger screen, PDAs can also store and display eBooks. The following Web sites house databases of text files and eBooks that can be downloaded to your PDA:

  • Free eBooks in a variety of formats.
  • The documents on this site range from poetry to romance to gardening instructions.
  • Byron??'s Emporium ( This site offers eBooks compatible with a large variety of handheld devices.
  • Thousands of eBooks are available for free through Project Gutenberg, a non-profit campaign that makes classic works of literature available to the public. To access their library, visit< /a>.

Next time you see a student curled up on the quad with a good???albeit heavy???book, consider enhancing your reading experience by harnessing the tools you've already got stashed in your backpack. Your back just might thank you for it.