One year ago this month, Internet bookselling giant Amazon announced a landmark in the growth of e-books: the company's sales of e-books had for the first time exceeded its sales of printed books. This event is only one of many indications that the age of the e-book has arrived. Sales of mobile tablet and e-reader devices have skyrocketed. E-books are being adopted in classrooms and libraries across the United States. Printed books are not going away anytime soon, but e-books are here to stay. E-books also have great potential to transform government publishing, making the publications so critical to taxpayers' lives and the smooth functioning of our democracy freely accessible in the best new formats for reading.
Recognizing this trend and growing demand from its readers, the Office of the Historian began an e-book initiative in March, and today is releasing 12 more volumes of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series for free download on its website. The Foreign Relations series, now in its 151st year of publication, is the official documentary history of U.S. foreign relations. The e-books released today include some of the most frequently cited and accessed volumes in the series, including volumes on covert operations in Guatemala in 1954, the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Berlin Crisis of 1959-60, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and the diplomacy with China in 1969-72 leading to Nixon's famous visit. The full list of released volumes and download links are available on the Office of the Historian e-book webpage. The Office is soliciting feedback about FRUS e-books during this "public beta" period in anticipation of publishing the volumes to major e-reader stores, where they will be available for free, later this year.
The Office of the Historian's e-book initiative is part of a larger, multi-year project to digitize the entire Foreign Relations series: each volume is being scanned and converted into volume into TEI, a format used widely in text digitization projects around the world. TEI is a mature, open, non-proprietary, standards-based XML format created by the Text Encoding Initiative Consortium. This format has enabled the Office's website to offer innovative tools for browsing, searching, and viewing the Foreign Relations series. By using TEI and an XML-based technology stack, including the open source native XML database eXist-db, the Office of the Historian is able to create web pages and e-books from the same XML source file without a costly reformatting of the original publication.
We leverage the open EPUB standard for e-books, to ensure our e-books can be read on a wide range of devices. EPUB files and their derivatives can even be read on desktop and laptop computers using free software, so readers can consume these e-books without additional investment in a tablet or dedicated e-reader device. These e-books can even be loaded into e-reader apps on smaller mobile devices, such as smartphones and the iPod Touch. In sum, our e-book launch today is the latest in a series of major initiatives undertaken by the Office of the Historian to advance government transparency, open government data, and the use of open standards and open source software.
Keep up with the latest e-book releases and other updates by following the Office of the Historian on Twitter @HistoryAtState.