I just finished reading my first full-length e-book last night. As a former librarian, that may be surprising. Unfortunately, my proposal to pilot an e-book program while I was a librarian was turned down. Not having had a Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony Reader, or other reader, I really had not had the chance previously to try them myself.
I was often approached by publishing companies wanting to push proprietary e-books that can only be read on the computer, but I always turned them down as I find reading on the computer for extended periods of time to be a less than pleasant experience. I also had tried to read a Kindle book on the BlackBerry, but that was a fruitless experience for someone with my eyesight.
Those conditions are still true. However, I recently acquired an Android phone with a 4.3 inch screen, so I wanted to give it another try. I read a fiction book using the Amazon Kindle app for Android. I have also downloaded the Nook and Google Books apps, but have not extensively tried them yet. Here are some of my first impressions:
- The experience was surprisingly pleasant. Once I adjusted the settings so that it was white text on a black screen, lowered the brightness, and made the font size as big as possible, it was an enjoyable experience without much eye strain or fatigue.
- It is much easier to pick up and read a book for a few short minutes on a cell phone than on an actual book. Convenience does sometimes come at the expense of depth though.
- I love the highlighting, annotation, and search features.
- It is harder to really become invested in a book. For me, part of this stems from the fact that it is not really yours. You bought it, but Amazon can remove it from your library if they want. Annotating on a screen is not the same as highlighting, writing, or folding pages in a physical books. When someone really loves a book, it is evident by the wear and tear on the book. In some ways, e-books are less personal experiences than physical books.
- Browsing a digital bookshelf is fun, but it cannot replace walking around the stacks of a book store or a library for me.
- Kindle does not support page numbers. This is a major oversight as it makes it extremely difficult to do proper citations. This makes the format harder for education to support, unless MLA, APA, Chicago, and other citation bodies change to allow citing by Kindle’s “location,” which is not likely.
- Publishers really need to step up their formatting. I have published one Kindle book without any training. The formatting was not ideal. I knew that and it is reflected in the $2.99 price tag. Since then, I have been studying Kindle formatting in depth in preparation for a big project in the spring. I may even start to offer Kindle conversion services as part of my company. In my opinion, after studying the finer details of what you can change and what you cannot on a Kindle, there were several instances of poor formatting choices throughout the book which is not acceptable from a multi-million dollar publisher.
Would I read another Kindle book? Absolutely. In fact, I have already ordered one and as well as a book for the Barnes and Noble Nook platform to compare.
Would I recommend that school libraries go completely digital? Not at all. There are still some shortcomings of the platforms, such as the lack of page numbers for citations and poor formatting of many texts, particularly the free texts. Beyond that, it would keep some students from learning to love reading. It really is a different experience; not necessarily better or worse. We owe it to our students to provide both. There are also licensing issues to work out in all of the major ebook stores, but that is beyond the scope of this post.
Would I recommend that school libraries factor e-books, both hardware and the books themselves, into their budget? Definitely. As a school librarian, one of the chief responsibilities is helping foster a love of reading in students. Every student is going to have different needs and interests. It is the same reason I introduced an anime section when other school libraries in the city were shunning anime as not being literary enough; there were students with an interest and it was what got them reading and coming to the library regularly. Furthermore, the searching (both in-text and on Wikipedia and an online dictionary) and annotating features do make e-books an excellent research tool.
All signs indicate that e-books are just going to continue to become a larger market. It is why technology giants Apple and Google have both jumped into the business in the last year. I feel that the industry has a lot of maturing to do in terms of removing DRM (Digital rights management that is designed to prevent theft. The music industry did this for years until they realized it was futile and bad for customers. An example was only being able to play a song you purchased in iTunes on 5 computers.) and moving towards standardization as opposed to every company having a new format or type of DRM. Just as the music industry spent many years sorting through growing pains as it adjusted to a changing landscape, so will the publishing industry. In 5-10 years, I expect the horizon to be quite different from it is at the moment. Having said that, schools would do well to stay current with their offerings instead of behind the times, as is so often the case.