E-book Readers in the School Library?

There has been a lot of buzz about the Nook, a new e-book reader from Barnes and Noble. Whether or not it can compete with Amazon’s Kindle or even Sony’s offerings is not the subject of this post. Rather, I would like to explore the advantages and disadvantages of e-readers in school and the specific advantages that the Nook appears to have.

The Nook

The Nook

First, if you are a consistent reader of this blog, you are aware that I am a devoted advocate of open-source technology. The Nook’s user interface is built on top of a foundation of Android, an open-source operating system that is developed by Google. Though it was originally intended for smartphones, Android has been ported to many other devices for a variety of uses. The fact that it is built on open-source technology is a good thing as a general rule, but it also nearly ensures that the community of users will develop other applications, most likely a web browser, that can be used the Nook. It should be noted that Barnes and Noble’s specific modifications to Android are not, to my knowledge, open-source, but they are going to release a software development kit to help developers make official applications for it.

I am a devoted techie as well as a librarian. I love the smell and feel of old books, especially if they don’t have any mold built up. I am just as comfortable reading Shakespeare or php. In my office bookshelf, I have close to 400 titles and have thrown out, donated, or given away at least twice as many this year. Let me be perfectly clear here as I don’t want this to be misconstrued. E-books will never completely replace physical books for me personally and that will not happen in this school district anytime in the near future.

I do think, however, the e-books have a place. Whether that place ends up being on dedicated readers or on ubiquitous software that allows you to read the books on computers, tablets, smartphones, MIDs, and any other new media, I cannot say for sure. The library does have 30 iPod Touch that could theoretically act as e-readers, but I don’t want to limit them to just that. I also am apparently not allowed to let students check out any device at the current time that has unrestricted wireless internet access on it. (Although I am working to change that so students can check out laptops and eventually iPods, I have been overruled for the present time.)

I am developing a proposal to buy 3 e-readers, specifically the Nook for reasons that are explained below. For about $1,000, which I should have left in my opening budget, I can get 3 of the readers and about 20 books at $9.99 apiece. I would like to see how they are received by students, most likely by introducing them first to my group of regulars (probably close to 50 students), then to the general student population. After collection formative (through conversations) and quantitative (through surveys and other tools) data on the experience, I can then try to find grant money to buy more if all goes well.

There are a few features that I like specifically about the Nook. First, the ability to share is crucial. With the Nook, if I have a book on my device, I can share it for 14 days with another Nook, with an iPod Touch or Blackberry running the Barnes and Noble software, or with a computer. I am essentially buying the content. So no matter how many Nooks I buy, a student with a Nook can essentially check out a copy 1 at a time. This is similar to how it works with real books and, conveniently, our checkout period is 14 days. Whereas with the Kindle, or some other readers, if I have 30 devices, I need 30 copies of the book. This was really the tipping point for me to get into the e-reader market. There is also a wireless signal in addition to free 3G; the Kindle only has 3G and I believe that they have started charging for it. Since we have a wireless overlay in the school, wifi is very helpful. The capacitive touch screen at the bottom of the device also looks great for browsing books and would be much easier than a traditional e-ink screen. The nook allows for SD care memory expansion, so I can put a lot more content on it. In addition, I can download any book in the ePub format as well as any document in PDF format, which is near ubiquitous. This allows us to get most of the classics free through Google Books.

Without sounding hateful, I will not ever buy a Kindle. I am not a fan of the design. While I appreciate function over form, it is not at all appealing to look at and there is no where that I can go to try one before I buy it. In addition, Amazon showed their true colors when they wirelessly deleted George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from a large number of users’ Kindles. Even after apologizing for their handling of the situation, they still made it expressly clear in statements and fine print that they reserve the right to do this again.

If you have any ideas or suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

Update 10/23

I just found how limited the sharing feature on the Nook will be. This really potentially ruins the device for me as a librarian. Publishers can opt out of sharing and even when they don’t, sharing is only allowed once per book, ever. I am still considering thanks to the abundance of free classic ebooks, but this is disappointing.

1 comment to E-book Readers in the School Library?

  • Angela

    I am thrilled to read your input on using eBook’s within the library. I am also a School Library Media Specialist. I wonder if there is a way to disconnect the internet feature on the nook. I would also not be able to lend a device that allowed for unlimited wireless access (or unfiltered wireless access) off campus. Our on campus wireless internet is secure and on campus use of an eReader would be allowed. Although, at this time I do not have any available for the student body.

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