New JISC podcast featuring the #jiscPUB report

Today sees the publication of a new JISC blog post, “How important are open ebook standards to universities?” and podcast featuring Ben Showers, JISC Programme Manager for Digital Infrastructure, discussing the Digital Monograph Technical Landscape: Exemplars and Recommendations Final Report.

We first published the report in November 2011 and, as the JISC post discusses, we have already seen several major ebook announcements. This has included Apple’s launch of iBooks2, significant news for the whole education sector since the software allows embedding of multimedia and more transliterate(1) ebook design.  It was launched with a number of innovative and visual textbooks giving a sense of how the ePub format can be creatively exploited.

The Apple news followed a bumper Christmas for ebook reader sales, particularly of the Kindle and iPad, indeed according to an estimate (based on a YouGov poll of 2,012 adults) reported in Pocket-lint:

“A staggering one in every 40 adults in Britain woke up to find an ebook reader under the tree on Christmas morning”

Even the Man Booker jury have reportedly adopted Kindles to assess the nominations this year.

These developments not only bring ebook readers into the mainstream but they also mean that an increasing number of students and academic staff will be adopting these tools making it an ideal time for universities to focus on how they can better engage ebooks, whether supporting their community or taking a lead in adopting and publishing directly. The timing could not be better to read or take another look at our Final Report on ebook publishing and the implications for Higher Education.

As Theo Andrew, Project Manager for this work says:

 “Over the last year or so ebook devices have really grabbed the attention and imagination of the general public. The academic community now has a good opportunity to utilise these technologies to present their work in new transformative ways. This timely report describes the current scene and highlights some of the key challenges that the sector faces with adopting and creating content for consumption on ebook readers. It finishes by making some specific recommendations on what actions are needed for the sector to fully take advantage of the many opportunities that ebooks provide.”

So, do take a look at the JISC post and podcast, read the report – which is available in various formats of course – and share your thoughts on the Final Report page or right here. We’d be particularly love to hear your own thoughts and experiences of reading and interacting with higher education related ebooks.

Introducing Epub2Html – adding a plain HTML view to an EPUB


EPUB ebook files are useful if you have an application to read them, but not everyone does. We have been discussing this in the Scholarly HTML movement; to some of us EPUB looks like a good general purpose packaging format for scholarship. Not just for HTML (if you can make it XTHML, that is) but potentially for other stuff that makes up a research object, such as data files or provenance information. One of the big problems, though is that the format is still not that widely known; what is a researcher to do when they are given file ending in .epub? That question remains unresolved at the moment, but in this post I will talk about one small step to making EPUB potentially more useful in the general academic community.

This week, I was looking at the potential for EPUB support in repositories, which I will cover in my next post. An EPUB is full of HTML, but it’s not something that is necessarily straightforward to display on the web. jiscPUB colleague Liza Daly’s company has a thing called IbisReader that serves EPUB over the web and worked on BookWorm, parts of which are also available as open source.

What I wanted was a bit different – I wanted to be able to add something equivalent to a README file to an EPUB that let people read the content and web site or repository managers would be able to do something with it. So, I wrote a small tool intended as demonstrator only which:

  • Generates a plain HTML table of contents.
  • Adds an index.html page to the root of an EPUB (this is legit, it gets added to the manifest as well, but not the TOC) with a simple frame-based navigation system so if you can open the EPUB zip, you can browse it.
  • Bundles in a lightweight JavaScript viewer. Initially I tried the Paquete system from USQ, but it turned out to have a few more issues than I had hoped. For this first release I have used a bit of Liza’s code from a couple of years ago, epubjs with couple of modifications. Status? Works for me.


So here’s what it looks like in real life, warts and all.

I used the test file I was working on earlier in the week with embedded metadata.

graphics1Illustration 1: Test epub from Edinburgh thesis template, with added metadata in Adobe Digital Editions

I ran the new code:

python Edinburgh-ThesisSingleSided-plus-inline-metadata.epub

Which made a new file. (It does make epubckeck complain, but that’s mostly to do with HTML attributes it doesn’t like, not EPUB structural problems).


Now, if I unzip it there is an index.html, and some JavaScript from epubjs. In Firefox that looks like this.


graphics2Illustration 2: HTML view of the EPUB being served from the file system, using epubjs for navigation

But, if the JavaScript is not working, then you can still see the content courtesy of the less than ideal inline frame:

graphics3Illustration 3: Fall-back to plain HTML with no JavaScript, the index.html file has an inline frame for the EPUB content. Not elegant, but lets the content be seen.

Trying it out / the future

If you want to try this out, or help out you can get the tool from Google code.

svn co

There are lots of things to do, like add command line options for output files, extracting the EPUB+HTML for immediate use (after safety checking it), choosing whether to bundle the JavaScript in the EPUB or linking to it via the web. Does anyone want this? Let us know.

One of the things I like about Paquete is that it generates # URLS for the different pages you view, making bookmarking chapters possible like this: I will explore whether this can be added to epubjs or whether it is worth pressing on with Paquete, which does have some more options like navigation buttons and a tree-widget for the table of contents.

Like I said, I did this as part of the notes I was putting together for how repositories might support EPUB, and maybe, finally, start serving real web content rather than exclusively PDF, more on that soon.

This approach might also help us add previews to web services so people can see their content in ereader-mode, something I know David Flanders the JISC manager on this project is keen on.

And finally something like this approach might be part of a tool-chain that could help people break up long documents into parts, packaged in EPUB and upload them to services like which want things broken up into parts.

Copyright Peter Sefton, 2011-04-14. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Australia. <>


This post was written in, using templates and tools provided by the Integrated Content Environment project.