Monday, February 7, 2011

To E- or Not To E- (Read, That Is)

Hamlet must be busy this week -- after I titled this post, I got this update in my trusty Google Reader ("To E(book) or not to E(book)" from the DeKalb Public Library). Seems like lots of libraries are wrestling with the eReader question, and the Paideia Library has just joined in.

Natalie wrote that at least one of our elementary students was getting a Kindle for Hanukkah, and an article in last Friday's NY Times discussed the jump in children's and Young Adult e-books sales right after the holidays. After a recent presentation on pilot eReader programs in a couple of Atlanta-area private schools, I was convinced to order the Library's first Kindle, and have been playing with learning about it since it arrived a few days ago.

What are the potential plusses for having eReaders in the library?
  • Storage space! It's kind of awesome to be able to offer 10, 50 or 100 "print" titles in the shelf space of a single best-selling novel.
  • Instant availability If a student needs a non-fiction book on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, I can get it in minutes and check it out on the Kindle.
  • Multiple copies from one purchased eBook. Amazon and Barnes & Noble both allow a purchased eBook to be downloaded onto several devices. Right now I am experimenting with this feature by reading a book on the new Kindle, on my iPod Touch (using the Kindle app) and on my MacBook (also using the Kindle app). It works like a dream, very handy.
  • Coolness. I mean really, don't you think it's kind of cool to be able to check out an eReader from your local library?

OK, but what might be some obstacles & drawbacks?
  • Multiple book titles tied up in one device. Great to have 100 books stored in a small device, but when it's out, it's like 100 books are out at one time. Unless all the devices have the same titles (not impossible) it doesn't really increase availability to the community.
  • Expense. A wi-fi Kindle is $139 these days, a 3G model is $189. The Nook is similar, while a NookColor is nearly $250. And then you buy all the books to go on it (not counting free public domain books like Huck Finn or Shakespeare's plays). Our Technology department loans Flip video cameras, MacBook laptops and iPods, so this is not an insurmountable issue, but one worth considering how best to manage.
  • Vendor exclusivity. You buy a Kindle, you buy from Get a Nook, buy from B&N. Or buy one of the other models out there with more flexibility but fewer options & features.
  • Limited lendability. You can't "borrow" & return eBooks from a library on a Kindle, and it's not super easy for the others, though it can be done (audiobooks are easier to 'borrow' from a library, unless you've got a Mac and/or iPod. Sigh.) So to loan the book, you have to loan the device with it.
  • "Ephemeral" ownership. This one is weird, but because eBooks are transferred through wireless always-on connections, they can be erased from a device as easily as installed. It's happened to Kindles at least once -- certain George Orwell books suddenly vanished from Kindles around the world. And though it's nifty, it's also kind of creepy that's service knows how far I've read and can sync that page to another device automatically.

My Kindle experience so far
(or why I prefer the iPod)

The Kindle is kind of cool, but as yet I'm not quite in love. The e-Ink technology make the reading easy on the eye, and they say it is far superior when trying to read in sunlight, but I haven't gotten over the blinking screen when changing pages. Getting a book in seconds is extra nice. There are a few 'experimental' extras on the Kindle that could develop into really useful features, like playing mp3 files for background music audiobooks, and reading PDF files, but they're very rudimentary now.

I've been spoiled by my iPod Touch. When I started reading on the Kindle, I wanted to poke the screen to make it do things, and it seems to me that had better jump on the touchscreen bandwagon or be left behind. Even though the screen is smaller, I much prefer reading the Kindle book with the Kindle app on my iTouch. Color pictures are in color (the Kindle is b&w only) and can be enlarged and moved around, I can "turn" the pages with a finger swipe, and no annoying blink from one page to the next. Hyperlinks (I'm reading non-fiction, with footnotes and references to illustrations) can be accessed with a touch, where on the Kindle you have to navigate around with the "5-way controller" to get to the link. All the Kindle functions (make the type bigger, bookmarking, searching) work on the Kindle app too. I assume the same is true for the Kindle iPad app, with a larger screen.

Personally, as a reader and dedicated library user, "paying for a book is a verrrrrry hard idea to get my head around," (quoting the DeKalb Library blog writer), and there's not much way around that for eReader owners. That's ok with a lot of folks, but it limits the accessibility of books to all and the ability of libraries (a major American institution) to provide that access. Discussion of rights of first purchase and fair use, and rights of creators, and the new digital media would be another long post in itself.

If it were something that most folks have to buy anyway (Social Studies textbooks, for instance) -- wow, awesome, yippee!!! Early textbook experiments in college didn't work out so well, but I think if the publishing companies and the touchscreen reader developers could get together, there could be market viability and real utility in electronic textbooks. The current eReaders aren't quite there yet.

For now, I'm sticking with my iPod (which also holds my beloved podcasts for easy listening) and the Kindle app. Unless you're headed to a tropical island to do a lot of beach reading, I'd recommend you try it out that way too.

But what about the Paideia Library's Kindle?????

Still working on it, trying to figure it out. I've had a few days to try it, and next it goes to an English teacher who's eager to try it out. After that, a student guinea pig. And then I may get a couple more for a bigger tryout. I'll let you know when a "rollout" happens.

Do you have a Kindle or a Nook or other eReader? Have you tried the Kindle app for phones, computers or iPad? What do you love and/or hate about it?

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