An Active Reading Machine

XLibris is a prototype interface for reading developed at FX Palo Alto Laboratory to explore the question "can computers help us read?" This project was part of FXPAL's Physical/Digital Documents research program, and followed from a project in the design of an ink and audio personal notebook (Dynomite). The principal investigator is Gene Golovchinsky; former collaborators include Bill Schilit, Morgan Price, Cathy Marshall, Kei Tanaka, and Frank Shipman. Other people have also contributed to the ideas and to the code.


Imitates paper

Augments active reading


Reading frequently involves not just looking at words on a page, but also underlining, highlighting and commenting, either on the text or in a separate notebook. This combination of reading with critical thinking and learning is called active reading (Adler and van Doren, 1972). To explore the premise that computation can enhance active reading we have built the XLibris "active reading machine." XLibris uses a commercial high-resolution pen tablet display along with a paper-like user interface to support the key affordances of paper for active reading: the reader can hold a scanned image of a page in his lap and mark on it with digital ink. To go beyond paper, XLibris monitors the free-form ink annotations made while reading, and uses these to organize and to search for information. Readers can review, sort and filter clippings of their annotated text in a "Reader's Notebook." XLibris also searches for material related to the annotated text, and displays links to similar documents unobtrusively in the margin, or as further reading lists. Finally, to help readers skim a document, XLibris can emphasize key phrases and grey out the less important text. XLibris demonstrates that computers can help active readers organize and find information while retaining many of the advantages of reading on paper.

Digital Libraries

XLibris is a digital library information appliance. Although digital libraries are intended to support education and knowledge work, current digital library interfaces are narrowly focused on retrieval. Furthermore, they are designed for desktop computers with keyboards, mice, and high-speed network connections. Desktop computers fail to support many key aspects of knowledge work, including active reading, free form ink annotation, fluid movement among document activities, and physical mobility. This is an up-to-date list of Digital Libraries.


We are currently revisiting issues of collaboration through annotation sharing. Here is the up-to-date list of publications on collaboration through annotation.

Related Work

See e-books.org for other resources on electronic books.

  • Information appliances
    • TeleWeb: Loosely Connected Access to the World Wide Web, by Bill N. Schilit, Fred Douglis, David M. Kristol, Paul Krzyzanowski, James Sienicki, John A. Trotter. Computer Networks and ISDN Systems, 28 (1996) 1431-1444.
    • The PARCTAB Ubiquitous Computing Experiment, by Roy Want, Bill N. Schilit, Norman I. Adams, Rich Gold, Karin Petersen, David Goldberg, John R. Ellis and Mark Weiser. In Mobile Computing, H. F. Korth and T. Imielinski, eds., Kluwer Academic Press, 1996.
      See also the PARCTAB Web page.
    • Dynomite: A Dynamically Organized Ink and Audio Notebook. L. D. Wilcox, B. N. Schilit, and N. Sawhney. In Proceedings of CHI97, ACM Press, March 22-27 1997, pp. 186-193.
    • Virtual Paper & Virtual Book projects at DEC SRC.
  • Information exploration:
    • What the query told the link: The integration of hypertext and information retrieval. G. Golovchinsky. In Proceedings of Hypertext '97 (Southampton, UK, April 8-11), ACM Press, 1997, pp. 67-74. [Abstract PDF]
    • Queries? Links? Is There a Difference? G. Golovchinsky. In Proceedings of CHI97, ACM Press, 1997, pp. 407-414. [Abstract PDF]

Related Publications

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