Wednesday, May 4, 2011

eBooks and eAudio

Greetings LIFEers! Today we had a very popular class; popular because of the teachers and the subject. Professors Jason Moulenbelt and Mark Thorsby returned to talk to us about what you are doing right now: electronic reading. More specifically, the pros and cons of the different e-readers on the market, and how to use them. Librarians across the nation are getting lots of questions about how to use them, and what the future of such devices will be. Let's take a closer look at this new digital territory, and see if this is the final frontier or simply a trend like laser disks.

First things first, lets take the lay of the land. What are the e-reader options, and what are their pros and cons?

Nook - by Barnes & Noble - base model starts at $149
- lighter weight than Kindle
- allows you to checkout library books
- easily replaceable battery
- can get in-store service at any Barnes & Noble location
- smaller selection of e-books than Kindle

Kindle - by - base model starts at $139
- huge selection - almost every book on is available in e-book format
- PDF reader is better than Nook
- has keyboard at the bottom, as opposed to the Nook's virtual keyboard
- battery very difficult to replace - many people just buy a new Kindle
- library books not available yet, but claim they will eventually allow this

iPad - by Apple - base model starts at $499
- is also a computer, not just an e-reader
- can get free Nook or Kindle applications, thus iPad functions exactly like either the Nook or Kindle (or both)
- more expensive and heavier because its a computer
- screen is backlit (it is a computer screen) which can cause eye strain - also has a glare in bright light making it difficult to read
- is constantly being upgraded so obsolescence factor is high

The good news about these devices is that you don't need a computer to use them (because they have wi-fi or better), except for the Nook, where you need a computer to use the library check-out function. More good news: all devices remember page numbers, and a single "book" can be shared among family members using the same account. You can also read newspapers or magazines online, but you will have fewer ads, no coupons and loose the regional feel to the paper. Another great function; you can save your e-library on your computer if you buy too many books to fit into your e-reader. If your computer memory gets wiped out, or if you delete a book, you can always go back and retrieve them from the host website, which remember which books you bought. And of course, carrying around an e-reader on vacation is much easier than lugging around a big bag of heavy books, or paying top dollar for a book at the airport.

The not-so-good news. This is all new technology and the rules are being written and revised as you read this. Harper Collins, the primary e-book publisher, will only allow libraries to check out an e-book 26 times before the e-book is deleted. The logic goes: real books wear out over time and eventually have to be replaced, so the same should go for e-books. I however think 26 checkouts is too low. If you agree, write to Harper Collins before other e-publishers follow suit. Another issue; technology is changing quickly, and you may spend lots of money buying e-books for a device that won't be around in 5 years. We've seen this in the music and movie industry (I officially own 5 copies of the first Star-Wars trilogy and hate George Lucas for his very smart yet very very greedy marketing strategy.) The e-readers will likely be around longer, since they are only e-readers and not tied to a specific computer. Devices like the iPad and iPhone are rapidly changing and will be obsolete within a few years. So choose your device wisely.

All this being said, I need to put in a good word for books. I love books. I love owning books. I still have several of my childhood books, many with additional illustrations by moi - now priceless to me. I remember exact pages in books where a favorite piece of information is located. I love dog-earring pages and taking notes in the margins. While e-readers are getting closer and closer to resembling books, some fundamental aspects of books cannot be digitized. E-readers cannot hold smells, drawings, or memories from previous owners/readers.

For more information on e-readers, go online and read the countless articles that compare the different devices. The Cy-Fair library will have a tutorial for e-readers (how to download books, listen to e-audio, etc) coming soon. Check back with us and keep reading....

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