Monday, July 5, 2010

Checking Out Digital Readers

Before anyone freaks out on me, I want to be clear that I don't think the printed word in its traditional formats - book, magazine, newspaper - is going away.  However, there is a lot to be said for digital readers.  Part of my time this summer is being spent exploring various options.

My county technology director, Nancy Napolillo, loaned my her Kindle for a few weeks this spring.  Without any directions I was able to navigate the device, but I did not find it terribly intuitive.  The resolution, however, was wonderful, even in bright sunlight, and the battery seemed quite resilient.  Unfortunately, the device is black and white only, which means it likely would have little appeal to kids.

A few days after borrowing Nancy's Kindle I had the brief opportunity to preview an iPad owned by our school psychologist, Stephanie Oberly. Although I did not get to play long, I was impressed!  I definitely see an iPad in my future!

In the meantime, Kindle has been making some moves to combat obsolescence.  I had heard that it had released apps for mobile devices, allowing customers to freely download the apps without the costly purchase of the Kindle device.  Once the app was installed, customers could purchase Kindle editions at a much discounted price and read these editions on their phones.  Unfortunately, my particular smartphone is not supported.

I was able to download a Kindle app. For my PC, however.  Again, in terms of graphics this is bare bones. For scholarly research, however, it is quite ample.  I particularly like the ability to highlight text and to highlight text with a note.  I downloaded some MacArthur Foundation papers from Amazon to test drive this device, and while I find it utilitarian, I can't see me relaxing with a good book on my laptop!

I see many advantages to using an ebook format.  The major advantage is that space would be conserved. Also, annotation with digital formats is quite versatile.  If one chooses to store his library on his cell phone, he could conceivably carry his entire personal library with him.  The costs for Kindle versions of ebooks are, in many cases, less than the cost of publisher's hardcovers, thereby saving the user money.
There are disadvantages as well.  For me perhaps the biggest setback would be the inablility to share books with my friends. Also, unless one is faithful and persistent about backing up his device, one's whole library could be lost and unretrievable if something happened to the device.  Also, I am guessing that using one's phone as an ereader could be draining on its battery, which is something to consider if one is unable to charge his phone regularly.

Mostly, though, I think ebooks have great promise. For the school library, I would like to see more digital books incorporated into our collection. In order for this to be used widely, our vendor, Follett, must come up with an application to allow students (or whoever) to download books and othe materials to their cell phones. This will make student utilization of this platform a reality.

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