Wednesday, August 12, 2009

the future is now

I found an article today that makes me want to address the giant pink elephant tiptoeing between the stacks....

Apparently, Sony and OverDrive are going to team up to cross market the Sony Reader with the OverDrive network to make it easier for library patrons to check out books onto eReaders. The patron looks up the book on the library's computer/website, and if it's offered through the OverDrive network, they plug in their library card number and download it to the Sony Reader. This causes a lot of questions to pop into my head:

Does the patron have to provide the eReader?

If the library provides the eReader, who's going to pay for them?

Does the book have a due date? Will it just disappear on the screen when it is due? If the library provides the eReader, will they have the same late fees as a regular book?

I'm sure that it is painfully obvious that I am only starting out as a Library Student (orientation is just over a week away), so maybe it is a little premature for me to start blogging about my opinions surrounding eReaders and what role they should play with in libraries and the information industry. I guess what I am trying to say is that this might be my first blog encroaching upon this subject, but is certainly won't be my last...

Right now my only interaction I have had with eReaders is that as a bookseller for a corporate retail chain, and I must admit, I haven't been all that impressed. It's just another commodity. a toy. something for the wealthy to whip out on a plane so everyone around them can see how wealthy they are. whoop-de-do. And that is basically how we have been trained to sell them in the store. We're told to play up their novelty to anyone who seems like a frequent business traveler.

I feel most sensible folks share the same sentiment. It's not a book. It doesn't feel like a book, smell like a book. You can't turn the pages, or feel the satisfaction of closing the back cover when you finish it. And you certainly don't get the same enjoyment of throwing it across the room in a fit of anger or frustration. or do you...?

However, I am a Libra, thus try to understand both sides of the story. I do see eReaders devices being useful in the academic realm. For a student to have their textbooks, journal articles, syllabuses and other required reading in one location could be very convenient. Although, it would make underlining, highlighting and writing in the margins a little tricky.
So I don't know where I stand on this, but I do promise that after a little research and maybe a few classes I'll have some more to say...


  1. I have a feeling that someday, in some form, electronic books will find their place in the world. I wouldn't attempt to predict what that place will turn out to be, but I sort of suspect they won't be turning up on dedicated ereaders. As laptops and netbooks get smaller, and mobile devices become more powerful, I definitely think eventually we'll all be carrying around one of a variety of small, light, powerful, convenient communication/entertainment/utilitarian doohickies, and yeah, I'd expect to see electronic books on them as well as music, videos, games, all that stuff.

    And there are some formats for which electronic book-type formats are ideal. Blogs, newspapers, maybe magazines, blah blah blah...

    But I think there's also always going to be a place for paper-and-glue books. In fact, just as vinyl has regained a lot of popularity since mp3s became commonplace, I'd sort of expect to see some books become more elaborate, better made, and more expensive. There might be a growing market for handmade, "artisanal" books if your daily throwaway reading is now as disposable as hitting "delete."

    PS: my captcha word was "prose." How apropos is that?

  2. I think you are absolutely right, Amy. I think we are also at an exciting time to be able to witness the evolution of the eReader as it becomes more and more visible and useable in our society. It'll be interesting to see where things go and how they get there...

  3. What if I never join the future?

    I've read sci fi books; I think there will always be a significant portion of the populace willing to have blue teeth implanted in their cheekbones or purchase expensive mouse gloves to work their 2-inch computers with backlit retinal screens.

    What I can't understand is how human beings read magazines. Or rather, I can understand how people read magazines but never open a book.

    I'm technology envyless. I'm typing this on a 2004 computer. I'm currently reading a book written in 1989. And I have no desire to read a book on a small LCD screen, and in fact, am having problems reading what I'm writing right now. If I refuse to join the future, I think I will survive, but will always be a little behind. So be it.

    Now press "post comment" robot. Do it now.

  4. Turner,

    Good on ya for getting this blog going!

    Since I'm one of those soul-less frequent business travelers who live only for novelty and gadgets, I feel compelled to weigh in.

    I've experimented with reading on hand-held devices of various kinds since 2001. Most have been terrible. I have not tried the Kindle, but I do have the last-generation Sony Reader. For text-based works, it's pretty darn good, and allows carrying dozens of books without the weight. Font size is somewhat adjustable and the e-Ink screen is actually much more like a printed page than an LCD screen.

    However, it massacres graphs and tables, rendering some of then unreadable. So there are trade-offs and room for improvement.

    Sony's choice to adopt the open ePub standard (rather than Amazon's insistence on proprietary format for the Kindle) will open up some huge caches of content -- notably all the public domain works among the 10 million titles scanned by Google Book Search. That will make download and portability much more compelling.

    In the library world, this could revolutionize the way libraries think about holding print copies in their collections. Libraries can use their central campus space for users, rather than warehouses of print materials, without depriving their users of access.

    Who buys the device? Well, for academic libraries it will be the students. If the same device can be used for textbooks, reserve readings, and titles borrowed from the library (all for less than the cost of a laptop), the economics will be persuasive.

    In public libraries, perhaps a different story. But OverDrive already supples digital audiobooks that are downloadable to MP3 devices; the filex expire automatically at the end of the loan period. Some libraries lend eBook devices.

    On an individual level, probably no one NEEDS to get here--print will be around for our lifetimes. But as a librarian serving a wide range of needs, it's important to offer a wide range of options for identifying and delivering relevant content.