A Brief History of the eBook
The earliest mentioning of eBooks appears to be in science fiction books with Robert A. Heinlein’s 1948 Space Cadet. In the book students used information “spools” which are displayed with projectors on their study desks. EBooks continue as a theme through to Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle’s 1996 Higher Education, in which students use readers with optional voice output and variable video display. EBooks have been a part of science fiction for years, and now they are also a part of science fact. The first real eBooks were created when people began using electronic resources such as word processors to create and store information. They were shared after the Department Of Defense’s 1969 creation of ARPAnet, which is noted as the beginning of the internet when computer systems were linked together into communication networks. In 1971 Michael Heart created Project Gutenberg with the purpose of freely releasing public domain books through the internet. Currently Project Gutenberg has over 6200 books available for free download, and has mirror sites located all over the world. In a 2002 interview Project Gutenberg director Michael Heart stated that from just one Project Gutenberg site, over a million eBooks were downloaded in a month’s time. In 1998 the U. S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) held the first International Electronic Book Workshop in Gaithersburg, Maryland and eBooks as books had come into their own. One of the big issues that were discussed at the International Electronic Book Workshop was eBook format. Format is still in contention today, as evidenced by the number of formats that are in use. Currently the Internet Public Library, which is an educational initiative from the University of Michigan’s School of Information, claims to have links to over 20,000 eBooks that can be read and downloaded for free.
Unfortunately, while eBook availability has been growing, awareness by teachers and use by students have not grown. Hopefully adoption of eBooks in educational situations will not take as long as another great change, it took over 300 years for movable type printed books showed up in schools (Lockard 1997). The electronic or digital “books” are available, the tools are in the schools and in the students’ homes, and it is time to start incorporating eBooks into education.
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