I finally bought an e-book reader last week. I had been resisting them for a variety of reasons, the most prominent of which seemed to be “I don’t need it.” Well, of course I don’t need it. Does anyone really “need” an e-book reader, when regular books have worked just fine for hundreds of years?
Well, actually — if you think about it — librarians sort of do. The reason I say that is because many of our patrons have them, and want to use them to access the downloadable media available from the library, and it would be good if the library staff knew how to help them do that. And to that end, the library where I work decided to offer an incentive to staff members to purchase of an e-book reader. Sure, they had some on hand that staff could play with, but it’s not really the same as having one that you can make your own, really get to know it (and love it).
(I should also note that if the device isn’t compatible with OverDrive, the software we use for our downloadables, then it isn’t eligible for the incentive. The whole point is to get staff to learn how to use e-book readers with OverDrive, so we can help patrons with the process.)
I decided to go for it… Why not?
So, allow me to introduce you to my new Amazon Kindle Touch ($99, plus a $40 protective case):
I’ve only had it for a week, but I must admit (sheepishly) that I already rather love it.
The first thing I did when I got it out of the box was put it into its case. Next, I charged the battery (via the included USB cable). I figured out how to connect the device to my Amazon account (which is how you get content on to it).
Then, I read the User Guide, which comes pre-installed on the device. I know that might seem counter-intuitive in a way, to only give you a user guide that is on the device, but the darn thing is just so intuitive in general, that you can’t miss it. It’s right there, when you turn it on, and you just click on it and start reading. Plus, I suppose it’s probably also one of those “immersive” learning strategies; it forces you to learn by doing.
Once I had the tools I needed, I set out to get some new content on it. I looked up some classics — like Pride and Prejudice or The Odyssey — on Amazon and found that many of them are free. Yes, free. Like, zero American dollars. On the one hand, that of course makes sense because the text of those works are in the public domain. But I must admit, I was skeptical whether that would be the case or if Amazon would have found a way to justify charging a nominal fee since they took the time and effort to create the Kindle version. But apparently not, so: Yay for free content!
Speaking of free content, next on my list was to figure out how I could borrow library e-books using my new Kindle.
Now, the ability to get Kindle books through OverDrive is a rather recent development. Until a couple of months ago, it was not possible to borrow library e-books on a Kindle. But, that is no longer the case. However, that being said, there are some aspects of this new feature that many librarians are not very happy about. Sarah Houghton, of the Librarian in Black blog, sums up those concerns better than I ever could (just FYI: her video blog contains language not suitable for work). But the short version is: when patrons borrow e-books on a Kindle, the book actually comes from Amazon and so Amazon is able to keep a record of that transaction, which is counter to the privacy mandate to which public libraries generally adhere. So, as a librarian, I feel obligated to mention that. As a consumer/patron/Kindle owner, it doesn’t bother me, because I have made the (informed) decision to be okay with the fact that Amazon knows what I’m reading. (They keep a record of all the stuff I buy from them, too, and yet I keep shopping there, so I suppose I’m used to it.) But Ms. Houghton definitely makes some valid points, so check her out.
But back to my experience with my new toy. I went to the Dayton Metro Library’s Downloadable Digital Media Library and searched for a book. Once I found one that was both in the catalog, available in Kindle e-book format, and had copies available, it only took a few clicks to “get” the book. I had to “add to cart”, put in my library card number, and then click “Get for Kindle.” I did have to login to my Amazon account (which is where the privacy issues come in) so that the book could be added to my device (because the device is linked to my Amazon account). The e-book then showed up on my list of e-books (with the notation “public library” next to the title). Once I re-synched my device (by connecting to wireless internet and clicking “synch”), the book showed up on my list there, as well. The borrowed e-book works just like my other books, except that in a couple of weeks I expect that it will disappear, once the loan period expires.
I did notice something interesting when I was trying to find a book to borrow, though. I searched for a book I have had on my mental list for a while now – Under the Tuscan Sun – and found that it was not available at all in the Dayton Metro Library e-books catalog. Out of curiosity, I decided to check nearby Greene County Public Library, whose e-book catalog is also powered by OverDrive. It also appears to be part of a consortium (since you must choose which library your card is from, when you put in your library card number). Anyway, the short version is that they did have Under the Tuscan Sun in their catalog. I found this odd. Of books that both catalogs had in common, I noticed that the GCPL catalog seemed to have more copies of each one than DML (which could be because of the consortium, I guess). Since I am not privy to the inner workings of my library’s OverDrive contract, I can’t say why all of this is. I wondered if perhaps there might be different “tiers” of OverDrive service; perhaps GCPL had subscribed to a more expensive one? By chance, as I was poking around Sarah Houghton’s site today looking for that earlier blog entry about Amazon/OverDrive, I saw that her post from today discusses this very topic: “OverDrive has Different eBook Catalogs for Different Libraries.” I’ll let Ms. Houghton tell you about her theories in her own words…interesting stuff. [*Edit* Apparently, I misunderstood Ms. Houghton's article. The problem she discusses and the one I've mentioned are not necessarily the same. But do still go and read what she has to say! Thanks to "Mike" for the clarification; see comment below. *End Edit*]
As a library patron, whatever the reason, the point is that if you don’t find what you want in one library e-book catalog, you should check the catalogs for other nearby libraries. They might have a book that your library didn’t have, or they might have more copies or copies available when your library did not. (For example, I ended up downloading Lev Grossman’s The Magicians from the GCPL because GCPL’s catalog has 9 copies, and one was available — as I write this, there are currently 4 of 9 available — whereas the DML catalog only has 2 copies, both of which were checked out.
All OverDrive weirdness aside, I’ve been enjoying reading The Magicians on my Kindle — both because the book is enjoyable and because my new toy is really pretty awesome. Here are some of the things I really like about reading on my Kindle:
- The integrated dictionary. I was always bad about actually looking up words I didn’t know, when reading. I’d try to get the gist from context and failing that, I would usually just hope it wasn’t too important, rather than trudging off to find a dictionary. While reading on my Kindle, if I see a word I don’t know, I can just “press and hold” on the word, and the dictionary pops right up. Now there’s no excuse not to learn exactly what that word means, right then and there!
- The overall design: the fact that it’s a flat, touch screen. It’s so much easier to read while eating, lying in bed, or even on the couch. I don’t have to hold the book open. I barely need to lift one finger (literally) to advance to the next page (just press anywhere near the right side of the screen). I mean, I know reading is a pretty sedentary, motionless activity to start with…but that one-finger page-advance feature makes it even simpler. I have to say, I am loving the ability to just prop the thing up against my computer at my desk and read while eating my lunch, which leaves both hands free except when I have to turn a page — so as long as I keep mayo or pizza sauce or garlic bread crumbs off at least one finger, it’s all good!
- The instant gratification. Especially with the library downloadables and the public domain classics, both of which are free. As long as you are somewhere with accessible wifi, you are just a few seconds away from reading a new book (or an old one). You can also buy Kindle books right from the device itself, although I am trying not to get into the bad habit of doing that…it’s so damn easy, it could get expensive quickly!
- The e-ink. Unlike an LCD screen (e.g., flat panel monitors, iPads, or Kindle Fire), the Kindle Touch uses something called e-ink and it looks like paper. It is black letters on a white background. It doesn’t “light up” exactly so you still need a lamp to see what you’re reading, but it also doesn’t give you trouble if you’re out in the sunlight. (Okay, I have to admit, I am taking their word for it on that one right now, since it is December in Ohio, and we’re unlikely to see much sun for several months.)
- The percent completed notification in the lower right-hand corner while you are reading. It’s nice to see that, especially since (unlike holding a physical book in your hands), you can’t actually see that the majority of the text block shift from right to left as you read. (Then again, it’s also nice to not have that change in balance affecting your ability to hold the book open with one hand, depending on how big the book is!)
(Please note that as I am not intimately familiar with any other e-book readers, I’m not suggesting that these features can only be enjoyed on a Kindle. Much of what I just said is probably true of many other e-book readers.)
Hopefully this whole blog doesn’t come off sounding like some god-awful sales pitch for Amazon Kindle. That’s not how I meant it. I just thought I’d share some thoughts on this fun new toy I got. (And I do consider it a “toy”. I still believe that nobody really “needs” an e-book reader. But damn, they sure are convenient and fun to use!)
Oh and one last thing about Kindle. The $99 one does have “special offers” (ads), but they only show up in a small banner at the bottom of the Home menu (like when you are trying to decide which book to read today), or when the Kindle is in power-save mode. There are no ads on the screen when you are actually reading a book. And if you really, really want the ads gone, you can pay an extra $40 any time and get rid of them permanently. I’m glad I didn’t splurge for the ad-free Kindle to start with, because I really find the ads quite unobtrusive and not worth $40 just to be rid of them.
If you have any questions about e-books, e-book readers, or how to borrow e-books from the library, please ask your local librarian. If he/she doesn’t know much about it, maybe you can learn together.