Reading with ECCO

Here and elsewhere, there have been various discussions of exciting projects made newly possible with digitized eighteenth-century texts.  I’m wondering, though, what strategies other people have developed for just reading them.

I have come up with three options.  First, you can read them on a computer screen.  I have done this by opening the ECCO document in the top half of the screen and my Endnotes program on the bottom half, taking notes as I read.  I have managed to get through several novels and travel narratives this way, but it’s not so easy to sit at the computer reading for long stretches and a far cry from curling up in a chair with a book, a pencil, and sticky notes.  Reading directly on the computer screen for that long can also trigger a migraine for me.  Alternatively, then, you can print out the documents and read them like you would anything else.  This, however, gets expensive, generates much clutter, and feels wasteful.  Further, since eighteenth-century books have so many fewer words on the page than most modern books, you get a very bulky document that can’t easily be carried around. The third possibility would be to transfer the files to an e reader.  When I first ordered my Kindle, I thought I would be able to convert ECCO documents to PDFs and load them onto the Kindle.  The first generation Kindles, though, did not do well with PDFs.  Sometime they worked, but other times they would come out blurry and/or tiny.  I have heard that the new Kindles support PDFs better, but that still leaves the problem of taking notes. Profhacker recently reported on an iPad app that allows you to highlight on PDFs.  I was intrigued by this possibility until I saw a guy using an Entourage Edge in the waiting room of the doctor’s office.  He turned out to work for Entourage and gave me and another curious patient a demonstration of this device.  With the Entourage, it looks like you can load a PDF or a Word document and actually take notes on the document.  You can then access only the pages with notes on them, saving the tedium of having to flip through the entire document.  The Entourage is heavier and bulkier than an iPad or a Kindle, but I’m thinking it might be a good way to read ECCO documents, manuscripts, and even student papers.  It has the grayish contrast screen that I like so much in the Kindle and it has a USB port for easy transfer of PDF files.

I’m interested in hearing about how others may have solved this problem before I invest in yet another electronic device.

11 responses to “Reading with ECCO

  1. Eleanor Shevlin

    Laura, I am glad you raised these issues. While I have sometimes read complete ECCO titles directly from my computer screen, these works have tended to be less than 50 to 75 pages (though I have read longer works). Generally I opt for printing and reading ECCO titles from hard copy. I can read online for extended stretches without eye strain, but I find PDF’s to be more troublesome to read in this manner. Also, because printing ECCO documents whose 18th-century text takes up far more pages than the same text would in a modern edition, I can see why you would say it is wasteful. Yet, I printed the microfilmed texts in pre-ECCO days, and I also view printing these works as a variation of print-on-demand. Although Jakob Nielsen represents the extreme end, I’ve encountered others who indicate that PDF’s are meant to be printed and not read on screen.

    When I bought a netbook this January, I was very tempted by the Entourage Edge, and I’ve been surprised that it has not received more press. I very much liked its combination of ereader and netbook into one single device. Yet, I needed the netbook then and the EntourageEdge had just been launched. I usually like to purchase devices after they’ve been tested by market use.

  2. Laura Rosenthal

    I wonder if the iPad and perhaps to a lesser extent the newer Kindles overshadowed the Edge. But the Edge is still an odd device and I don’t think it would fulfill some of the functions of a netbook, such as taking notes at a conference. It only has an on-screen keyboard that seems awkward, although maybe one could get used to it. It also doesn’t seem so great for casual reading since its bookstore is pretty limited compared to the Kindle selections on Amazon. For certain functions, though–reading and marking PDF’s; commenting on student papers while traveling; reviewing manuscripts; reading anything available on Google books–it seems like it might be really great. Apparently it was designed with students and educators in mind, which accounts for some of its differences from other devices.

  3. Eleanor Shevlin

    I had only viewed the Edge online, so I was not sure about its feel (I don’t do well with touch keyboards), but I did note its limited bookstore. Yet I suspected that its selection would expand if it took off. Yes, it does seem geared to the education market; evidently it has partnered with Blackboard, Wiley, Elsevier, and law and medical textbook publishers.

  4. Laura Rosenthal

    By coincidence, the Chronicle just published an article on ereaders:

    Interesting, some of the writers mentioned the limits of ereaders because of the difficulty of taking notes, but none mentioned the Entourage. I think the Entrourage would not replace a netbook, but the ability to write notes on a document seems like a huge advantage. Maybe there just isn’t one device that does everything a scholar would want it to do.

  5. Depending on what you are studying, Google Books might be another option. With Google Books, one can create a “My Library” book shelf. The reader organizes her various book shelves according to whatever criteria she chooses. Once a book is selected the user has the option to download the .pdf version which includes the ability to make electronic annotations. These annotations are private, locked behind the Google account. The reader can also select / copy sections of the .pdf image and embed them into other online documents.

    Regarding readability onscreen, I have generally found the quality of the images quite good (I am reading late 17th c. and 18th c. texts primarily). Of course it all depends on the quality of the original and the scan, but I have found the quality to be very high. Google Books is a strong competitor to ECCO I think (although the collection is hit and miss) and has a few features that go beyond ECCO’s functionality. No e-book reader required.

    The issue of online readability (computer vs. e-book device) is one that I can’t comment on though I’m definitely interested in some of the new generation e-book readers. I haven’t had the funds to buy a reader yet and I didn’t want to be tied to a specific collection of titles such as the case with the Kindle. One other thought – would it be possible to download the HTML files from Gutenberg-E or Internet Archive and read the text file rather than the image file? That would be a smaller document (for printing) and faster since typography wouldn’t be an issue.

  6. The enTourage eDGe is a perfect companion to the kind of content interaction you described. You can open any ePub or PDF file on the E-Ink screen, which is the same as the screens on many e-readers. We include the Documents to Go program so you can open Word and other Microsoft documents on the tablet screen. And yes, you can annotate directly onto the pages of books, as well as highlight, and copy and paste. If you have additional media, such as images, videos or notes, you can attach them to the margins of your pages. You can also export your notes and books as pdfs and email them straight from the eDGe.

    The eDGe more features than I could describe here, you can check out more details of the device at and see how owners are using their devices on our forums at We also have a YouTube channel that has tutorial and usage videos

  7. Laura Rosenthal

    Hi Jennifer,
    Thanks for the tip on Google Books. I use Google books but didn’t know about the “my library function.” Some people seem to be able to read things on a screen but I’m hoping to find something more comfortable and portable.

    • Eleanor Shevlin

      Thanks, Jennifer. I’ve used Google’s My Library quite a bit, but perhaps in a slightly different way. In MyLibrary I create folders for various projects, and these folders are often subdivided into other folders. Sometimes the books are full text, but often they are not. In the case of limited preview (often secondary sources that I have discovered), I use the note feature to indicate the page numbers and their relevancy. These items and notes serve as both reminders to obtain a print copy and why I wanted the print copy.

  8. Eugenia Zuroski Jenkins

    Having just purchased an iPad (WHICH FINALLY CAME TO CANADA), I’ll be experimenting with modes of reading different kinds of documents…if I come up with any preferences, I’ll share them here. So far I love reading on the thing period, though I still find simultaneous note-taking rather clumsy.

  9. laura rosenthal

    Yes let us know! Are you using the app mentioned above or something else for taking notes?

  10. Jill Bradbury

    On a related note, I am wondering about citation protocol when using Google Books and EEBO. Since my small university library does not have EEBO or ECCO, I tend to use Google Books when possible and make occasional treks to other university libraries to get what I cannot find on the web. If I want to quote a digitalized text, is a Google Books version acceptable or should I use a more “authoritative” database like EEBO or ECCO? Would one even need to indicate whether the text was digitized or paper? What guidelines are academic publishers following on this?