Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kindles in the Library, Redux

Finally, a compelling reason (for me, at least) to have library-owned Kindles to loan.

Back in February, the Library got its first Kindle eReader. I played with it for a few days, and was underwhelmed (lots of thoughts, written up in this post). Since then, two teachers and one student have "test-read," with mixed reactions. I'm not sure what it says that none of the three actually finished the book that was requested and loaded on the Kindle for them.

For both teachers/adults -- one was reading a book to prep for class, the other was reading a novel for fun at the beach -- the biggest frustration with the electronic device was the inability to flip back and forth through the pages, or to create a visual memory of how far along in the book a certain scene takes place. Taking notes isn't really that easy either. The student said he got used to it and liked it a lot, but didn't have much time for pleasure reading during the semester. I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that eReaders really are best as "personal electronics," and that it still makes more sense for libraries to loan content rather than devices.

And then last week, a student asked for an audiobook of Makes Me Wanna' Holler, a non-fiction title he is reading in class. Sure! we have audiobooks, specifically for students who learn as well or better through their ears than eyes. Only not this one, and it's apparently not available on CD (or even Audible.com), only on cassette, used. Even worse, the cassette edition is abridged. Even if I were to buy it, which I didn't want to do, it would be of limited value. The teacher came to ask how we can support this student. Think think, ponder ponder. The Kindle was sitting on my desk, just returned from its spring break checkout. Eureka!! (or, like DUH) What about the Kindle text-to-speech function I'd heard about? How good/awful is it? Could this be an option?

A quick check confirmed that the needed book was "text-to-speech enabled" (some copyright holders have demanded disabling of this function, concerned about potential impact to audiobook sales). Note sent to the next teacher on the Kindle test-drive list explaining the delay (gulp, it's the Headmaster.) Book purchased, downloaded and device ready to be checked out by break. The Kindle has a jack for headphones, and after class (the one reading the book), this student was already so enthusiastic he asked if we had his lit book on audio! Downloaded and ready by the end of the day. So now the one Kindle is helping this student in two classes, and providing something that the print editions of both books just can't do.

Having a computer read out loud to you is not the greatest aesthetic experience with a book. There's even inadvertent humor involved -- when it comes to tricky stuff (as in ALL the cuss words), I'm told the Kindle just spells them out! I bet that was a lively discussion at the Amazon.com product development meetings.

Still, text-to-speech is high-level value added in my opinion, making the Kindle more than just another way to read a book. (Paul B., the Library's second Kindle will be here later this week, and you're still first on the list.) I'm also going to participate in the Technology department's new iPad test program -- with a less expensive, refurbished 1st generation iPad (w/o cameras) -- to see if offers value to students in a library-relevant way. Brief research indicated that iBook can be set up as a text-to-speech device for Apple bookstore ebooks, though the Kindle reader app doesn't have the function. We'll see.

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