As a librarian the one question I get asked more than any other regarding the Kindle is “can you check out library books with it?” Before September 21st the answer was no. Overdrive, the software that handles public library ebooks, did not support the file format that Kindle uses. Now that’s all changed . Kindle has arrived on the seen in a big way. They have a 3 minute and 53 second video  that explains just how easy their multi-step process is. The non-Kindle download is basically a three step process: choose it, put a hold on it, download it. The Kindle check-out process goes something like this: choose it, put a hold on the book, choose the Kindle option, it automatically sends you to the Amazon website,  choose “Get Library Book”, sign in to Amazon, choose your device (that’s right if you are savvy enough to figure out that the Amazon app that you have on your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry or Windows Phone will work you can choose one of those options), click continue, click download…phew. Perhaps a small price to pay to get library books on the Kindle.

What’s good:

  • You can make notes in the book and it will save them for your next check-out or if you decide to purchase the book.
  • Amazon sends you an e-mail when you have 3 days left on your check-out.
  • Amazon sends you an e-mail when your book has expired
  • You can publish your reading info to your social networks (because everybody cares)
  • Amazon will have a better profile of you when suggesting books because your lending library habits will go in their system
  • You can finally get a public library book on the Kindle

What’s sketchy:

  • The multi-click check-out process is created to get you to buy the book from Amazon
  • Hold times at public libraries are already very long for popular ebook titles, the addition of Kindle users could make this additionally frustrating. (I have been waiting at least 3 months for 5 different e-titles through my public library)
  • Due to the fact that renewing is not possible and you have to get to the back of the line if you don’t finish your book you may very well purchase the book from Amazon just to finish it.
  • Amazon will have a better profile of you when suggesting books because your lending library habits will go in their system

What about that Amazon Tablet?

Don’t go out and buy that Kindle you’ve been holding off on just yet. The rumor is that the Amazon’s tablet will be announced this coming Wednesday. With that announcement, the relatively reliable rumors say, they will also announce the Amazon lending library. Basically, if you are an Amazon Prime customer (that will cost you $79 a year) you will have free reign to lend certain titles from Amazon. Specific information like: Which title? Will there be holds placed on books that are already checked out? How long can a book be checked out for? How many books can be check ed out at one time? Are all unknown. Could it run circles around the current public library e-lending system? Quite possibly. However, you still need a digital device to read the book on and you still need to shell out an additional fee to be a Prime member.
Is it a coincidence that Amazon announces their partnership with OverDrive and public libraries right before they announce their tablet and lending service? I think not.

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The iPad launch caught me scrutinizing it from the perspective of an e- reader. I have an iPhone, I have a laptop, I have a desktop, I have not yet purchased an e-reader. Is the iPad just a big iPhone? Or is it a netbook without a keyboard? Like the iPhone, there is no flash support, no multitasking, no SD card slot, no e-ink and additionally no HDMI, no USB,  no camera, no 16:9 video support and oddly no way to hold the darn thing up on a table! But okay, it’s generation 1 let’s give it a break (I’ll even give the ridiculous name a break, women did any of you NOT go there?).

At some point we have all wanted our iPhones to have a little larger format, no? So for now I’ll just consider it a big ol’ expensive iPhone without calling or camera capability. Somebody wants that, right Apple?

My problem is with LCD and LED backlighting for reading on all of these multi-ability devices. The nice thing about e-ink is that it is easy on the eyes for reading at extended intervals. Why the e-book market does not take that information and use it in their marketing is a mystery to me.  How many of us enjoy reading a backlit display for hours? Not me. Granted, it would be nice to have the addition of color for my reading pleasure and it would be especially desirable in the textbook market but the iPad solution is still backlit and is rather expensive for a student considering they still need to purchase a laptop for classwork. I’m just not getting it and I am devoted to my Apple products (even with the AT&T service on my iPhone…Verizon where are you already!).

In actuality the iPad has no market with me (who is their demographic on this one anyway?). Frankly, I am waiting for Qualcomm’s Mirasol technology . It has no backlighting, it has video support and color. It’s a reflective technology which means it uses the light in the area which also means it has less need for battery power. I believe there is hope for me in the e-book world yet, just not now.

In the meantime I squint at my iPhone for electronic books and I remain faithful to the still-not-antiquated paper book.

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computer lecture textbookI was a school librarian (AKA teacher librarian, library media teacher…the list goes on) for over 10 years. In California for grades 7-12 that means you are also the defacto textbook administrator. This, of course, is a fulltime job in and of itself with schools of over 1,000 students and each needing their own textbook for each class and some classes changing every few weeks and add to that student transience the job never ends. There is not just the checking out of books there is the ordering, the billing for loss and damage the shelving and unshelving, rebinding, the scheduling for class pickup…suffice it to say it is a nightmare and can take up the majority of your time. Personally I think this is part of the reason teacher librarians have become extinct in the State of California. How can they possibly do their jobs when they are weighted down with all of this clerical nonsense, and yet it continues and pink slips abound because administration, looking for budget cutting measures, do not see the job the librarian is supposed to be doing only the one forced upon them that does not need to be done by a credentialed teacher (and oh yes, the teacher librarian is often the most highly credentialed teacher on campus). The good that could be done is lost on the California school system particularly with the knowledge we have that a library that is well-funded and staffed raises achievement . Just another blindspot that puts more weight on the classroom teacher to be responsible for every single thing that students spit out on the high-stakes tests. The whole thing is ridiculous and I could rant all day on this subject alone but this is just the prelude.

In an effort to combat the high cost of textbooks our governor Scwarzenegger has just decreed that as of Fall 2009 electronic textbooks should begin their implementation, he even wrote a charming editorial that was run in the Mercury News. On its face doesn’t that sound swell? He says that this will be cheaper, easier, better on students backs and the wave of the future. As a former school librarian I wish this was realistic because it could save the jobs of my colleagues who still have positions in schools, heck it might even restore axed teacher librarian positions and allow students and teachers the advantage of having the expertise of this master teacher in their midst. But I am afraid Arnold has not thought this through. First of all California has an adoption process for textbooks. You can’t just choose one willy nilly this summer and implement it this fall. Every 7 years a subject gets their new books and in year 6 the committees convene to go over all of the publishers options. It is a long arduous process that allows textbooks to be purchased that best fit that school district. Okay, let’s say we throw out the time tested system and take whatever e-textbooks come our way because we are hungry for change. How exactly are the students going to read these electronic books? Public education in our country is “free”. The student can’t be told to pay for their textbook, they are gratis to use and are to be returned when class is over for the year, so we cannot make them pay for the e-reader. And please tell me which school district has the funds to purchase and maintain over 1,000-4,000 e-readers per school? I can fix a damaged textbook but an e-reader? I think not. How do you handle loss and theft? How do you keep an extra couple of copies for every class for those students that forget or need one temporarily? I know that I personally cannot afford any of the e-readers out today and I am one single middle class person (and technology loving librarian I might add, oh how I wish I could).

One might say that the publisher should come out with the reader for their textbook. Well, what if each subject area goes with a different publishers e-textbook? Then we have a different reader for each class? And let’s mention how sturdy the reader would have to be. Nothing survives in a 14 year olds backpack, seriously. The joy of the paper textbook is that damage is only surface deep and students are not thrilled with the idea of keeping them so they usually get returned. With a piece of technology that holds their unloved e-textbook (as opposed to their beloved cellphone and/or iPod) there is no end to the tortures that can be imposed. I just don’t see it. I commend the thought but I am frustrated by the lack of foresight.

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First thing this morning (I am on the West Coast) I check for the exciting new Kindle 2 announcement. Surely they have given a new twist and price that will move it into a new market! Meh. Nope. Little upgrades and no price change. Sigh. What you now get is:

–    A changed and still unremarkable industrial design
–    The same 80’s color (reminiscent of my/the first hand held Nintendo video game)
–    More storage capacity
–    More battery life
–    The incomprehensibly unchanged price of $359
–    A tenth of an ounce lighter (no, really)
–    4x’s more grayscale color.
–    It is skinnier by .36 inches.
–    A text-to-speech reader (which, if any good, is in my opinion the most significant change)
–    The standard features from Kindle 1 have not been dropped you can still buy your books online, bookmark passages and so on.

There is talk of a new feature yet to come called “whispersync” that will allow the Kindle user to sync with another Kindle (assuming you actually own two or know someone else with one. Do you know anybody who owns even one yet?). Interestingly the whispersync should also allow you to sync with mobile devices, ahhh now we’re talkin’. Sync with my iPhone and we might be closer to doing business.

Standing back and looking at the new big picture. Do we get more value for our money? Yes. Is it enough to make me find the money? No. My business is online services for a library if you can’t sell me I don’t know how you sell anyone but the traveling business consumer and the lucky few techy bibliophiles that have too much money. I admit the Kindle has the best business model out there but you’re killing me Amazon, you really are.

For a more detailed and admittedly more positive spin I would suggest taking a look at the review from Fast Company who actually got their paws on the Kindle 2.

In another world I would love it if  Amazon would take a page from the yet unseen Readius.

The rumors are swarming (if not leaked) that the new Kindle will be somewhat improved and cheaper   . So we wait for the February 9th announcement with baited breath. In the meantime there is a new reader called an eSlick by Foxit Software throwing it’s little hat in the ring. It claims that it will be cheaper than either the Kindle or the Sony reader (both of which have priced me out of the ebook market) however cheap to Foxit, at this point, means $230..ehh hem, for what?

From what I can tell the eSlick is utilitarian in both form and function. It is not particularly good looking, it has no wifi, it simply views (actually that would be “converts”, yeah an extra step) pdf , TXT and plays MP3 files. Atleast Sony and Amazon give you easy access to a (expensive) bookstore to download your books from. I want to be optimistic I really do but it seems to me that these business models are wrong. Why are these dag blasted things so expensive at every turn? Certainly the cost of production is rather low, we are familiar with the parts. I say suck me in with a lower cost for the reader itself…say $100…and I’ll pay a price for ebooks. Not that I understand the rationale behind the price of the ebook either. As it is, in this economy, I find myself buying paperbacks instead of hardbacks and using my public library with increased frequency and I am certain that I am not alone. Just look at the hardback collection at Costco, it has been dwarfed by the paperbacks, they cater to what people will buy. An ebook is far less involved than a paper book in terms of production and I am to buy it for near the hardback price! Phooey.

I want to evangelize the joys of the ebook, I really do, but for now I sit on my wallet and wince in the Sony-Kindle-eSlick (yeah I’ll add the iRex iLiad for the purists but please, $700? It was dead in the water before it began) direction. Sigh.