Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Project MUSE Fail

I was psyched when I heard that our library would get a lot of eBooks through Project MUSE. I wasn't sure how the details would work--such as how to do lending--but I figured I could easily download books onto my iPad and have instant access to them.

I spent some time messing with it yesterday, though, and unfortunately the endeavor seems stuck in a middle ground between "eBook" and "file." You have no option for downloading the book. Instead, every chapter and section of the book (TOC, index, etc.) are separate PDF files. To have a "book" you would need to create a folder and stick all these files into it. All your bookmarks, notes, highlights, etc. are therefore scattered all over the place and hard to find.

Here is Project MUSE's FAQ on the topic:

Q. Why must I download a book chapter by chapter?

MUSE collaborated with the participating publishers in UPCC to bring thousands of university press books to the MUSE platform. In consideration of publisher concerns about their intellectual property, MUSE agreed to offer books in chapter-level PDFs. MUSE also wanted to accommodate institutions in areas with low bandwidth where the smaller chapter file would be easier to download.

So the basic point is that if we make the book cumbersome and hard to organize, then you won't be able to pass it on to someone else. It will also make it very hard to use, but that doesn't seem to be the concern.

You might think I am looking a gift horse in the mouth--this is still quick access to a lot of books. However, it could be easy to envision libraries not ordering paper copies of books at all if this cumbersome PDF version is available. That would leave the reader worse off than before.


Alison Bradley 3:59 PM  

It's funny--on the library side, we are *delighted* to finally have an option to buy eBooks that can be downloaded and read without staying online or needing special proprietary software. But you're right, when I compare it to buying myself a Kindle book and reading it straight through, Project MUSE looks a bit less magical.
But it is pretty cool to offer access to all of our 26,000+ students (not to mention faculty and staff) from anywhere they can get online....

Greg Weeks 4:05 PM  

And that's why I used the "gift horse in the mouth" phrase. I don't want to be too critical, but it just isn't what I expected.

Chad Black 8:58 AM  

Just about the only time I use the Firefox browser is when I'm faced with a situation like this. My solution-- I use the DownloadThemAll! extension to automatically download all of the book parts into a single folder that lives in Dropbox. I then read the book on my iPad with GoodReader, which can sync with Dropbox. It's not as easy as it could be. But...

I also find that when I go looking for something in a book later, having the smaller chunks makes searching more robust.

Alison Bradley 9:33 AM  

Not too critical at all! Your points are perfectly correct--it's easy on our side to forget that nearly all of our users haven't seen the platforms and subscription models we had to reject. (If you ever want a tour of the worst alternatives, let me know!)
Chad, thanks for posting the app suggestions, I am going to try that out.

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