Saturday, January 29, 2011

Is the world really ready for e-readers anyway?

I found this great tutorial video for how to use Overdrive to read library books on your e-reader:

The video was produced by the Sacramento Public Library, a library that obviously is on the e-resources bandwagon.  Check out the featured link to e-resources right there on their homepage (cleverly embedded within the iPod icon). 

While I'm really grateful for such helpful tutorials, watching it made me wonder something.  Are the majority of public library patrons really ready for e-readers?  I mean, this is a fairly complicated transaction, much more so than taking books to the circulation desk.  I'm no geek, but I'm fairly comfortable with technology, and even I began to think, while the instructional video rolled on and on, step after step, "oh my god, what does it take to get a library book on a Nook?  Maybe I should be glad I have a Kindle!".  :-)

Then I thought about the patrons I see at the public library.  It seems like so many of them have a great deal of trouble using basic computer tools.  The reference librarians are constantly on call, troubleshooting this, walking a patron through that.  And the problems that tangle up these patrons are often dealing with the "simple" things like emailing or printing.  How likely is it that these patrons are going to be able to negotiate the multi-step process of downloading books to an e-reader?

What I fear is that the adoption of e-reader compatible books will drive another technological wedge between the haves and the have-nots.  More affluent patrons will have even fewer reasons to enter the library proper meaning less mingling across the social strata.  And the less direct contact they have with the library as a place, the less attached they are likely to be to it when the next millage vote comes along.  Will e-readers mean the further ghettoization of the public library?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Uh-oh, the world just got a little bigger

Like most people, I have been thinking of the e-reader world as a tripartite structure consisting of little other than Nooks, Kindles, and iPads.  Well, the editors over at the Tech Talk column at The Contemplation have completely exploded that notion with their review of more than a dozen e-readers (including one biggie that has slipped under my radar, the Sony E-Reader).

The really neat thing about this review is revealed in its title:  "eReaders for Patrons of Public Libraries."  Yes!  Just the thing I'm interested in.  Thanks to that, and to the fact that the review was published in June 2010, two of the devices I have been talking about are notably absent.  That's right, no iPad and no Kindle.

I was just taken aback by the number of e-readers out there that I had never heard of.  Aluratek, Astak, Bookeen. . . . And many of them sound quite good.  In fact, there seems to be very little that separates the Kindle from these other readers except for the supply of titles.  Kindle, of course, has Amazon behind it, which means a lot more titles.  But, as this review points out, it doesn't mean library titles. 

With all of these exciting new (to me) brands, which reader did the editor's tap as their pick for best e-reader for library patrons?  The Nook.  This comes down to supply of titles, I believe.  While the review is about library access, most of the other e-readers do not have an alternate supply of titles, while the Nook has more than a million titles available through B&N.  I guess you can't take the business out of business even when talking libraries.

Monday, January 24, 2011

No Big e-Rush in Boone

While reading about the various e-readers and how they do or don't interface with library collections, I have definitely come to question whether I made a smart move purchasing a Kindle, which now appears to be the most stand-offish, uncooperative of the whole lot. *sob*  After a little research over the past couple of days, I have discovered that I might not need to be too hasty in switching over to a Nook (or other device).

Not surprisingly, the mountains are not a particularly population-dense area, so we are served by a regional library, a cooperative effort among three counties.  Despite its relatively small size--even as a group--the library, I thought, might be ahead of the curve on e-books for one very important reason:  winter access.  During the winter months, patron access to the libraries is very much hampered by icy mountain roads.  What would be a better solution than to offer e-reader selections to all those temporary homebound readers, right?

Unfortunately, it looks like the library is not thinking that way--or there isn't funding.  A search of the Appalachian Regional Library holdings shows no e-reader options.  Ah, but still there's hope!  I know that the AR Library does offer patrons access to the statewide program:  NC Live, which I know offers e-books!!  Happy happy joy joy!   Uuuunntiiillll, I actually poke around NC Live and discover this from their FAQs:

Ok, so maybe if you're trapped in the house for a couple of weeks by the latest blizzard and are dying for something to read, you might be tempted, under the weight of such dire circumstances, to read a book on your computer screen.  But I'll tell you, while I'm toying with the idea of becoming an e-reader (only as a supplement to my real book reading, mind you), I feel very confident in asserting that I will never be reading books on the computer screen.  Ack! 

I do have the advantage, unavailable to a lot of my neighbors, of having access to the library at Appalachian State University.  High on hope, I headed over there to check out the e-reader situation.  To my surprise, I found that their entree into the world of e-readers thus far consists of a current pilot project involving, of all things, Kindles.  The library has 5 Kindles, pre-loaded with 17 books each, available for check out for 3 week periods.  This just seems to point up the clunkiness of the Kindle's relationship with libraries.  The only way that Kindle can be used in the library still involves a physical exchange and does not allow for any individual choice.  Those checking out these Kindles can choose only from the pre-loaded books.  And I, as a Kindle owner, really have no role to play in this at all.  Even if I wanted to read some of the offered books, I wouldn't want to have to wait for a couple of months (the Kindles do have multiple holds on them, so I guess the program is popular so far) just to pick up a device that I already own, worry about not damaging it, and then have to return it in 3 weeks whether I've finished the books I wanted to read or not.

So, what have I learned today?  That there aren't a lot of opportunities for me to use an e-reader in conjunction with my libraries yet.  And that Kindle really does kind of suck when it comes to the free exchange of ideas.

**Ok, for the sake of full disclosure, I do have access to NetLibrary, which does offer books for e-readers.  But my access to that is through academic channels, and I'm really thinking about the issues of e-readers and access primarily through the lens of public libraries, so I'm not going to talk about NetLibrary just yet.**

Sunday, January 23, 2011

At Least Someone Does Her Homework

So I came across a post about e-readers by Karen Coombs, self-described librarian and geek coder, over on her blog, Library Web Chic.  It was interesting to read about someone else taking the plunge into the world of e-readers.  Unlike me, however, Karen both knows what she is talking about when it comes to technology (and the library) and is willing to do some serious homework. She limits her field to the big three:  iPad, Nook, and Kindle.  But, after playing with an iPad for a while and getting a headache from the computer glare, she quickly is down to the Nook vs. Kindle main event.

Image courtesy of DigitalTrends

This is where something interesting happens.  She visits a Barnes & Noble, plays with the Nook in person, and that, coupled with her research, convinces her to go the way of the Nook.  I say this is interesting because of the way that direct exposure and familiarity works in this situation.  We don't have a B&N up on the mountain; in fact, much to my pleasure, our two big bookstores here are the non-chain-affiliated campus bookstore (how many of those are left?) and an independent bookstore.  Not having a B&N nearby meant no fondling the sample Nooks when making my Christmas list.  On the other hand, even though I couldn't touch a Kindle through the website, I'm very familiar and comfortable with Amazon, and that is probably what tilted me in that direction.  It makes me think about how initiatives to introduce lendable e-books at libraries might be heavily influenced--particularly in smaller systems--by the personal experiences and predilections of the staff at that library. 

Anyway, back to Karen.  She loves her Nook, in large part because of two things it does that Kindle does not.  It allows her to "check out" library books and to lend books to friends with Nooks.  *sigh*  As much as I've enjoyed using my Kindle, I'm beginning to regret my hasty decision.  Even if the Kindle editions are much cheaper than real books, I have a very small book budget these days and would love to be able to borrow books, both from friends and the library.  The inability of the Kindle to lend books seems like a major flaw.  Lending is a reciprocal activity and generates interest in the product, so I think they may be missing out on some easy marketing.  Furthermore, and more to my point, the inability to borrow books from either friends or the library casts the book in the most proprietary of ways and works against the current Net culture, which emphasizes collaboration and sharing.  I think Kindle might be putting itself in danger of ideological isolation. 

Since I already own a Kindle, I guess what I have to hope is that they smarten up and fix these issues.  And soon. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reader's Remorse?

Image courtesy of
Is Kindle the end of the world as I know it?  Despite my y chromosome and the fact that I grew up at the beginning of the consumer technology boom (even being one of those crazy early adopters who upgraded from a VIC-20 to a Commodore 64 right off the bat-ha!), geeking out finally gave me more headaches than buzzes, and I left it mostly behind.  I would put myself right smack dab in the middle of the pack--or even lagging a bit--when it comes to most forms of technogoods.  My motto:  neither a Luddite nor a technophile be. 

There is one area, however, that I thought to remain sacrosanct, eternally protected from the metallic tentacles of the ever-encroaching robot armies, and that was my reading.  Like a lot of people who share my professional interests in literature and librarianship, I love books.  And I love them for all the same reasons that all of those other people do:  the smells of ink and mold, the crisp feel of the pages,  the heft, the easy visual cues of reading progress, etc.  Furthermore, my reading memory has a very strong spatial component.  I tend to remember exactly where on a page I've read something, and it may not even be the words that I'm remember (which could be found with a keyword search in an electronic context) but just my own internal reaction (which, obviously, cannot).  It's safe to say that, until recently, I had no desire to read a book unless it was a good old fashioned ink and paper artifact.

But two things have started influencing my thinking.  First of all, the age difference between my students and me, and therefore the resultant technology gap, is only increasing every semester.  Purposely dragging my feet when it comes to electronic devices only puts me at greater risk of becoming stranded on the other side of an entire worldview from them.  Secondly, I am very deep into working on my MLIS at the University of Southern Mississippi, which not surprisingly has me thinking quite a bit about the ways information is now accessed and will be in the future.  In short, I've been hearing Dylan belting out "The Times They Are A-Changin'" in the back of my head and am in no hurry to sink like a stone.

Thus, for Christmas, I took the plunge and asked Santa for the new generation Kindle.  Not being a geek, I confess to doing very little homework before purchasing.  I use Amazon all the time (who doesn't?) and kind of let the Amazon connection sell me.  Of course, I read a lot of consumer reviews, mostly of the Kindle and the Nook (I sure wasn't interested in making the jump to something like the iPad) and thought the Kindle sounded just fine.

What I've discovered, however, is that, while I've enjoyed reading a couple of novels on the Kindle so far, it really would not serve me well for reading textbooks (thanks to a lack of page numbers and poor graphics) and won't work for library books (because Amazon is fiercely protective of its proprietary platform).  And that is what now has me thinking about e-readers and libraries. . . .