Article Acrobatics

I’m part of a medical education journal club. Before each meeting, the organizer circulates a PDF file of the assigned reading via e-mail. When we want to share an article with students, it’s common to post the PDF file on Blackboard so the class can access it. At my own website, I maintain a reading list of faculty development topics, many accompanied by PDF files of articles.

The ubiquity of PDFs (a product of Adobe) has made scholarly life easier. I know I greedily hunt out PDF versions of articles to save to my hard drive when I’m doing a literature search. But a post on the blog Savage Minds questions the long term consequences of making PDFs the default academic format.

For one thing, it’s a proprietary system. I can read PDFs for free, but if I want to annotate and manipulate the files, I need to buy the $300 Adobe Acrobat software. It’s also possible for publishers to place restrictions on files that make them more difficult to circulate. With the rise of e-books, there are several alternative models out there for reading files on a screen. The next time I attach a PDF to an e-mail, I’ll think before I send.

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