Microsoft Edge has gotten some new features that are positioning it as the default ebook reader. I’m not a big fan of Microsoft web browsers but I have liked Edge since it came out. The shift to extensions from plugins, the more modern feel. So I was curious when I saw first that it could handle epub ebooks and now that it’s adding research tools for readers. It’s ubiquitous presence in law firms could actually help law librarians deliver ebook content to legal researchers.
Ebooks don’t really make a lot of sense to me on the desktop. I’ve always felt that a portable ebook reader or app on a tablet or phone was more likely how people read ebooks. But don’t take it from me. And I’ve also felt that lawyers and other legal researchers are unlikely to be heavy users of legal ebooks, because of how I believe law books are used. So many discussions of ebooks in law rely on the broader use by public library and other users, most of whom are reading linear texts. But I don’t think lawyers read legal texts from front to back, instead dropping into the middle.
Counter intuitively, then, I can see Microsoft Edge’s role as an ebook reader for lawyers, because it’s on their primary device (desktop or laptop computer) and they’re likely to use it in a spot fashion, grabbing research from it just as they would an online database. Also, what’s the competition?
Adobe Digital Reader, a requirement for using the primary public library ebook delivery system, Overdrive? Adobe Digital Reader is just a reader and, for that, is no more compelling than Microsoft Edge was. But the addition of tools may make a difference. Also, no crapware. I’m not going to touch on the legal publisher silo apps – I think their walled garden approach is not only not helpful to law librarians, it’s not going to end up being responsive to what’s happening in the rest of the ebook world.
Edge Research Tools
This assumes you’ve received Windows 10 build 17074. I’m going to be using one of the fine eLangdell books from CALI for examples. From the opening view, you can see that you have a variety of tools on the top of the page. One thing I particularly like is that the keyword search tool is immediately accessible. If I’m opening a legal text, I may head directly for a finding tool – there’s a table of contents button on the bottom navigation bar of the reader – but I’m also likely to do a quick search. I can quickly jump to my favorite shotgun trap case by clicking a link.
There is a note-taking feature along side the search box. This allows you to access notes you’ve added to the book. Adobe Digital Editions has a similar feature, but it’s hidden in the Table of Contents area, with the search button.
If you create a note, it’s then accessible from the note button on the top navigation bar. The note feature will save the text you highlight as the note, and pop up a second window where you can add the actual note. You can also select text, right click, and highlight the text. Like a good one-L, you can use a variety of highlighter colors to distinguish different parts of the text.
One feature I think law librarians might particularly like is the note sharing feature. Picture a law firm librarian who has licensed ebooks that are a bit under utilized. A request comes in that could use an ebook. That librarian can now select the relevant part of the ebook and send it to the lawyer who needs it.
You can select either an annotation note (yellow) or highlighted text (green highlighter) to share. I’m using a network based version of the CALI book, so I’m curious as to what the person receiving the shared information can do with it.
Ideally, they can click through to the same, shared ebook. More likely, the annotation is saved locally and so they just get a flat message. In which case, the highlighted text may have less utility and the annotation should be pretty complete. Microsoft Edge will apply locally created notes to the ebook, whether you use it online or not.
When I downloaded the Torts 2 CALI book and opened it, the annotations and highlighting I’d made while viewing the online book were visible with the local version as well. I couldn’t find where Edge stores this information on the hard drive but it could be possible to compile, say, at year end, all of the notes/notations lawyers in a firm had made to the same book to enhance it.
One feature I’m a bit curious about is the accessible read aloud mode. It actually does pretty well with judicial opinions.
Beyond the accessibility uses, I was struck at how it might be used in some support roles in a law firm. The need for someone to read aloud a document while a second person reads a duplicate copy? An alternative way to do deposition summaries? Since the read aloud function appears to work with PDFs as well as epubs (no, a PDF is not an ebook but they’re as common in law firms as Windows), there may be other documents that would be a good match for audio read back.
The mobile version of Microsoft Edge – which runs on Android phones natively and can be installed on Android tablets, although they are apparently still working on a tablet version – also has the Hub, the bookshelf, and access to the Microsoft book store. If so, then things like sharing may work both ways, so that a law librarian could share from a desktop to a lawyer using a mobile device.
All in all, I think Microsoft Edge as an ebook reader is a pretty nice improvement. Because it will be on most law firm computers due to the prevalence of Windows in the legal profession, it seems a perfect ebook reader to leverage. There seem to be some good opportunities for law librarians to use it to push ebooks that might not get as much use in front of the lawyers, without having to resort to a legal publisher silo reader.