As more and more of my own reading material moves from traditional hardback and paperback texts to electronic format, one application that I make increasing use of is that of Calibre. Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com/) is a free, cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) application that allows you to view, convert, create and manage e-books. The software supports e-book file formats for all of the major players in this area, including Amazon (Kindle), Android (tablets and phones), Apple (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch) and Sony (Reader) as well as a number of others.
Once you start up the application, the main interface presents you with a number of easy to use options, including functionality to add new e-books to your Calibre library (individually or by folder), edit the metadata of e-books (either manually or download from web-based services), convert from one e-book format to another, either individually or in bulk (this conversion facility is one that I make particular use of), view (read) e-books, and search for e-books to download. You can view the details of e-books in your Calibre library by list or by a ‘cover-flow’ facility (very similar to that of iTunes).
When you connect an e-book reader to your computer, Calibre detects this and can manage the books on that device – send new books to the reader and remove existing ones – all through a drag-and-drop interface. If you attempt to copy an e-book that is not in a compatible format to an e-reader device, Calibre will detect this and will activate the ‘convert e-book’ facility to address this.
One of the features that I use quite a lot is that which allows me to create my own e-books, usually from PDF or Word documents. Unfortunately, Calibre is unable to generate e-books directly from Microsoft Word documents (.doc, .docx) but a quick workaround for this is to save the document as an OpenOffice (.odt) file (or you can of course use OpenOffice to produce the word processed file to begin with) with which Calibre can work directly. At this point you can also edit the metadata for your new e-book (which includes adding a cover image), modify the ‘look and feel’ of your e-book, and generate a table of contents for the book (see below). It is this e-book creation facility that offers particular educational benefit in terms of students (and indeed teachers) easily creating their own e-books.