A standard table of contents in the medium of print, though indispensable, cannot offer much more than an overview to the reader. Historically, tables of contents were more complex, with several columns dividing the book like a flowchart. But the form for the table of contents has ‘ossified,’ according to Brent Nelson and those presenting the Dynamic Table of Contents at the INKE Birds of a Feather Conference (November 2011).
The medium of the e-book, however, offers many possibilities for improving the way that books are presented. The table of contents can become an interactive tool for the reader. Web users are used to somewhat interactive tables of contents, with website menu options taking us to the desired pages, or resources like Google Books with clickable tables of contents. But the team behind the Dynamic Table of Contexts has created a tool to add to and customize the table of contents in electronic reading.
One of the many projects by INKE (Implementing New Knowledge Environments), the Dynamic Table of Contexts offers the traditional subdivisions of a table of contents, but also allows the creation of tags to further organize the book. The tags, such as all speeches within a play, are derived from XML encoding, and can be added or subtracted from the table of contents. Every element in this table becomes a link to the tagged sections of the text.
The Dynamic Table of Contexts presents a cross between an index and a table of contents. An index shows related elements, while the table of contents shows the structure of the text. In combining both forms of representation, the Table of Contexts can integrate the manifold related elements of the reader’s choosing into the table of contents—and link to them. As a sidebar to the rest of the text, the Dynamic Table of Contexts is always visible and accessible.
With this project, the reader can participate with the text in a new way. Browsing the text through the categories that are important to your specific research interests sounds wonderfully useful, as does the ability to collate the relevant sections easily. And when the research interests change, the Table of Contexts can change as well.
The Dynamic Table of Contexts is a free tool, requiring the creation of an account. The project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Major Collaborative Research Initiatives Program (as part of INKE Interface Design).
Among the many project collaborators is McGill’s Stéfan Sinclair (Associate Professor of Digital Humanities). The full team is: Ann Blandford, Susan Brown, Teresa Dobson, Sarah Faisal, Carlos Fiorentino, Luciano Frizzera, Alejandro Giacometti, Brooke Heller, Mihaela Ilovan, Piotr Michura, Brent Nelson, Milena Radzikowska, Geoffrey Rockwell, Stan Ruecker, Stéfan Sinclair, Daniel Sondheim, Claire Warwick, and Jennifer Windsor.
Sources: Geoffrey Rockwell’s notes from the INKE Birds of a Feather Conference (http://www.philosophi.ca/pmwiki.php/Main/INKEResearchFoundationsForUnderstandingBooksAndReadingInADigitalAgeTextAndBeyond)
The INKE website (http://inke.ca/projects/tools-and-prototypes/)
And the INKE Interface Design blog (http://research.artsrn.ualberta.ca/inke/projects/dynamic-toc/)