TOC improvements for textbooks/reference books

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:
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

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) .

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.

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.

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

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Maybe we could have a menu like or for our TOC

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.

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.

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@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: Happy to work with you if you’d like to get the German reading text up and running in Pressbooks this year …

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

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

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