E-Books: How Should Schools Embrace the New Technology?

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.

  • http://maryannreilly.blogspot.com Mary Ann Reilly

    We are investing in iPads and other hardware and making significant use of ebooks. I agree with you though that it is not an either/or situation (or at least not yet); that is to exclusively use either books or ebooks. Both serve a purpose and have different aesthetic qualities. I do love being able to carry around hundreds of books though:)
    Mary Ann Reilly´s last blog post ..Guest Blog- Children of Color and the Poor Left Way Behind in the National Governors Association and State Education Chiefs Common Core State Standards Initiative- “Text Exemplars” for Kindergarten through 5th Grade

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Being able to carry around hundreds of books at once is definitely an advantage. How does MHS handle the licensing issues? ie. Being able to only put a purchased book on 7 devices.
    Jason Bedell´s last blog post ..E-Books- How Should Schools Embrace the New Technology

  • http://noeltigers.com wmchamberlain

    I read books on my Droid X, but only when I have to. I prefer my Kindle first then my iPad. There really is no contest for me between the Kindle and iPad at this point. The Kindle is a much more enjoyable experience to me. My seven year old loves my Kindle so much she is getting one from Santa this year.

    I read a couple days ago that there would be a web based Kindle app soon. Before long I will be able to read books anywhere, anytime. The only problem is the cost of many ebooks is actually more than what you would pay for them as a physical book. That is so not cool.
    wmchamberlain´s last blog post ..Sick Santa!

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason T. Bedell

    That’s wonderful that your daughter loves reading that much. Your assessment lines up with what I’ve read as the Kindle’s eink display is supposed to be much better than the iPad’s lcd for reading.
    Jason T. Bedell´s last blog post ..E-Books- How Should Schools Embrace the New Technology

  • http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2010/12/eleven-reasons-i-applaud-lamar-high.html Lisa Nielsen

    Jason,

    How glad I am to have checked out your blog. I just wrote about a library who went mostly digital
    A Dozen or So Reasons I Applaud Lamar High School for Ditching School Library Books. I received a lot of comments from educators who were not happy about the shift and some who were. Personally, I love reading digital over paper for a dozen or so reasons which I shared in my post, but one I didn’t share is this. I live in Manhattan. I just don’t have room for all the books I want which means I had to get a storage space just for my books which means in reality I don’t really read them much because I don’t like going to the storage unit. The other issue I have is I LOSE books. So frustrating. eBooks solve both issues.

    Regarding standardization, have you heard what Google eBooks just launched this December Google Helps Books Grow Digital Wings? I wonder how that will impact the standardization issue.

    As far as your point about citations, I actually think the style books need an update. Little of what I read these days have pages on them and because I write digitally too, I just link to the article. I wonder if the citation is actually just a certain number of words in the book that become a searchable phrase. Things to consider for sure.
    Lisa Nielsen´s last blog post ..Not knowing how smart you are is more fun

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Lisa,
    I agree totally with many of the reasons in your blog post and can totally relate to the storage issue. When I lived in TN, I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 700-800 books, mostly in a very large attic. Not having room in NJ or the desire to carry that many boxes of books, I gave nearly all, except for my favorites, to kids in my school.
    While I recognize the inherent value of the digital books, my main concern with jumping in head first is putting a barrier to learning to love reading for some students. I’m as much a tech junkie as anyone, but I don’t know if moving completely in that direction would alienate some of those that we serve. I would love to visit a completely digital school library and see what the response has been from the kids.
    I support Google Books; I think it is a worthy effort. However, I think that it is destined for poor acceptance. Look at their goal with the Nexus One, their first self-branded phone. It was an awesome concept, very well executed, and designed to disrupt the cell phone industry. Carriers did not want to give up control, the same way that Barnes & Noble/Amazon/publishers don’t want to give up control. More than that, it was an extra step for customers. If I want to put a Google Book on my Nook or my iPad (can’t go on Kindle because they don’t support Adobe DRM), I have to buy it, download it, and then transfer it. Most consumers with dedicated e-readers will likely just use the store built into their devices. While it is not the best options, consumers will often go with the most convenient option.
    I agree completely on updating the style books; I just don’t know if governing bodies of MLA/APA will hear our plea.
    Jason Bedell´s last blog post ..E-Books- How Should Schools Embrace the New Technology

  • http://educationaltechnologyguy.blogspot.com Dave Andrade

    My wife was very shocked to hear I wasn’t wanting a Kindle or Nook for Christmas. I love the feel of a book and I usually only read at home anyway.

    However, as a techie, I love the idea that I could be sitting in school, or waiting in an office, and read my book. One of the things I like about the Kindle is that your book is available to you on the Kindle, your smartphone app, and on your computer.

    I agree that one issue with eBooks in school is the availability of tech for the students. Many of our students do not have computers at home, or have dial up internet only. Many of them do have some kind of feature phone and many are getting smartphones and iPod touches, but it is a small percentage. Plus, I wonder about eye strain when trying to read on a small device. I know it bothers me after a while.

    Another issue is how do you share an eBook with a friend? Book swaps are great. Libraries are great. If eBooks can come with some sort of licensing for letting a person borrow your eBook, for libraries to “check out ebooks” to patrons, and for schools to have multiple licenses for their eBooks, it will definitely make eBooks more mainstream.

    I think there is a huge future for eBooks in education, especially at 1-1 schools, but I don’t think we can go mainstream just yet.
    Dave Andrade´s last blog post ..Jog the Web – web tool to create a guide to other web pages

  • http://educationaltechnologyguy.blogspot.com Dave Andrade

    I forgot one other thing. Wouldn’t it be great to go to the bookstore, buy a paper book, and get a license code with it to also get the eBook? That way, I can read the paper book at home, but access it other places too. Best of both worlds!
    Dave Andrade´s last blog post ..Jog the Web – web tool to create a guide to other web pages

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason T. Bedell

    Dave,
    I love the idea of buying a paper book and also getting the digital rights. They are trying to do this (although poorly) with some blu-ray movies now.
    book sharing is just one of many issues that I believe will be ironed out with time. E-books is still a very nascent market with a lot of maturing left to do. I think in 5-10 years, there will be a very different, and hopefully better, landscape of the e-book market.
    Jason T. Bedell´s last blog post ..E-Books- How Should Schools Embrace the New Technology

  • http://educationaltechnologyguy.blogspot.com Dave Andrade

    E-books are definitely going to become more popular as time goes on and many of these issues are addressed.

    I like the fact that E-textbooks could eliminate lost books, students forgetting their books, and could be updated faster (how many science books still being used show Pluto as a planet?).

    As more people get access to the technology, we’ll see more adoption of things like this.
    Dave Andrade´s last blog post ..Jog the Web – web tool to create a guide to other web pages

  • Debra Gottsleben

    Jason I agree with Mary Ann that it doesn’t need to be an either or situation. I definitely think that school libraries need to be offering ebooks and moving towards the day when most if not all books are delivered in e-book format. But I do miss some characteristics of print books. Not having page numbers was a huge negative for me. Not just because of citations but because I like to know how many pages a book has before I start reading it. I also love at some point before finishing the book to read the ending. This is very difficult to do on an e-reader. And last, for me at least I’ve noticed that since moving to a kindle (and I think it would be the same on any other e-reader) I was reading less. A lot less! What I think happened is that once the novelty wore off I found that picking up my kindle before going to sleep seemed too much like I was “plugging” back in. So instead of it being relaxing it felt too much like work. I really had to force myself to read. I have moved back to print format for pleasure reading. I am happy that I have a Kindle? Absolutely! It is great for travelling (although I was out of luck when I brought my Kindle on a trip and neglected to bring the charger and found that I had no battery left!). It is also wonderful if you hear about a wonderful new book and want to read it right then. If it is available as an e-book you’re in luck! Instant gratification!
    So in summary I would encourage anyone to purchase some type of e-reader including and especially libraries. But I’m not an advocate of throwing out all of the print books just yet!

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason T. Bedell

    Thanks Deb,
    I can relate to the plugging back in feeling. Granted, I only have a big phone, not a dedicated reader, but it does feel like I am not getting the same depth. I read more often because it’s always with me, but it sometimes feels more like superficial reading, as though I am reading a book they same way I read Twitter or a website. Convergence is coming one way or another though.
    Jason T. Bedell´s last blog post ..E-Books- How Should Schools Embrace the New Technology

  • http://thePLAINESTjane.blogspot.com Kandis

    I certainly appreciate this article. It was more than useful. I recently read an article that spoke about how schools were contemplating adopting eBook devices as a part of their regular curriculum. I didn’t agree with it then, and I certainly don’t agree with it now. Whether eBooks would be school property of pupils property, the cost to parents would be tremendous and every household cannot afford to purchase nor repair broken ones. I’m sure that today’s youth could handle eBooks, given that this is the technology age and NO child should be computer illiterate, however, with costs and young wondering minds, that would not be a good idea.

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