TOC improvements for textbooks/reference books


#1

I appreciate that the current UI was designed and is still optimized for reading long-form prose. That means it prioritizes a “clean, uninterrupted” reading experience to move through a long work in sequential order. Nice job!

However, that also means Pressbooks offers a suboptimal reading experience for other kinds of texts. In my case I’m thinking of textbooks and reference works. Readers of these kinds of e-books expect and need to be able to jump around very frequently to specific subtopics elsewhere in the book.

I am the author of an open textbook which I currently publish using a simple WordPress theme with a couple minor free plugins:
https://courses.dcs.wisc.edu/wp/readinggerman/
The most relevant plugin in use there is “Collapsing Categories,” which offers an always-visible, visually clean, accessible, mobile-friendly UI so that the reader can easily navigate at any time to any other section of the book, and in fact encourages them to do so.

I would love to move my textbook into PressBooks for many reasons, but the Pressbooks reader experience would be quite frustrating to my students compared to what I have now, and I believe it would negatively impact their learning, and that trumps everything else.

I propose improving Pressbooks to either offer a reader UI option in which a quite different version of the TOC is used, optimized for reference/textbooks, or to enable Pressbooks authors to use other WP plugins within the body of the text, specifically including the option of “Collapsing Categories” or some equivalent.

Thanks for considering this,

  • Alan

#2

Yes, I believe it could be better if we have 2 table of contents in the sidebar. one for the chapters and parts and other for the diferent h1, h2 … of the page.

But I think to have the TOC (or colllapsing categories) in inside of the text zone will make too long the start of the page. I don´t like to see once you open a page just an index. I think is better to see content in order to understant what is about the book (in my case, an introduction) .


#3

Thanks, Colomet. My suggestion for a plugin “within the body of the text” was poorly worded. What I mean is: visible someplace on the screen while reading. I did not mean literally placed where the body of the text is now. For example, the way Collapsing Categories works is it’s in a sidebar for larger screens, and appears after the body text on small (mobile) screens.

I do not have in mind enabling navigation within a page. Two TOCs would be very confusing! Readers just need one TOC always available, to quickly navigate among the multi-level structure of the entire book. For example in my 2-level book, each “section” is a separate WP “post” that is then organized into chapters/units using WP “categories.” That’s what readers need to navigate, especially within the sections of the current chapter/unit, and often reaching back to sections within previous chapters, too.


#4

I don´t know how did not see how works yout TOC, the last time I take a look to your page but I did not open your TOC, now I understand your point. I believe is really cool how it works. The one in pressbooks i don´t like too much.

To have 2 tables of contents can be a good or bad idea. Is up the designer how the work ends. I have a long TOC, to have inside more information maybe is hard to understand too. Chapter, pages, sections…

Wikipedia have 2 table of contents, one for the languages and other for the content of the page. Two table of contents allow to show the one you use to use.


#5

Maybe just one step at a time. First to make better the current menu, because i don´t think the current TOC works in the best way, and later to create new funcionalities


#6

Maybe we could have a menu like http://shiftnav.io/free/ or https://blackrockdigital.github.io/startbootstrap-simple-sidebar/# for our TOC


#7

Sure - the main difference between those two examples is whether the default status (upon arriving at a page) is open or closed. I believe that on non-handheld screens the default position should be open, but better would be to allow each book author to simply configure whether the default position is open or closed (for non-handheld screens).

Those two examples, however, appear to lack a multi-level structure. Pressbooks already supports a 2-level structure (which is sufficient for me, too), so any improved TOC for PB needs to handle nested navigation. Collapsing Categories is really quite perfect in terms of functionality - whereas cosmetics and layout could certainly be played with or improved.


#8

Thanks, Alan. This is definitely something we would look at implementing. I’ll review this discussion as part of our work on a new web theme for books in Pressbooks.


#9

@alanng – I don’t know if you’ve seen the new collapsing ToC sections and two-level Toc available for the last few months in Pressbooks, but I think it goes some distance toward your initial request. Here’s a screenshot from your book as currently configured:

. If you wanted to combine some of your smaller chapters into a single chapter, you can also create sections with <H1> headings and choose to have these headings show up automatically in the Table of Contents using these instructions: https://guide.pressbooks.com/chapter/table-of-contents-adding-a-second-level/. Happy to work with you if you’d like to get the German reading text up and running in Pressbooks this year …


#10

Ah ha, real progress! Thanks @SteelWagstaff , I was not aware of these upgrades, will definitely look into this at my next opportunity.


#11

We’re also iterating on the new table of contents design in a forthcoming release to make it more accessibile and flexible. Stay tuned!