A Kindler and Gentler way to Read? Maybe not yet at the library

There has been much talk about Kindle, Amazon’s new reading device, in the few weeks that it has been available. Most of it has been from a user perspective, centered on its features, readability and how it competes with other devices. Several library blogs have also started conversations to see if this is a device that has a place at our libraries and if the high price tag (high for many library budgets at least) could prevent many libraries from purchasing it.

It seems that the general consensus is that most libraries won’t embrace the Kindle yet. The major issues discussed fall into the following concerns:

  • The Kindle cost too much to be able to loan it to patrons without fear of the device breaking after several uses, or the power adapter getting lost.
  • It may take additional funds to teach staff and patrons how to use it and provide periodic maintenance by a technical department that is already streched and underbudgeted in many cases.
  • The ebooks themselves are not DRM free, which many librarians advocate for, and which results in the library not actually owning the ebooks but rather licensing them for a while.
  • The devices do not allow – yet at least – to lock down their purchasing ability, so any purchases made by patrons will be charged to the account owner, that is the library.

Of course, all of these arguments – perfectly valid otherwise – are mute when it comes to reading Spanish-language books with the Kindle, as there are none to be found. This may be an oversight or a market decision. But I am guessing that if the device proves more popular as time goes by, Amazon may add some popular titles from the publishing houses it partnered with.

In the meantime, what can libraries do? Since 2000 when we got our feet wet on electronic book formats we’ve been talking with libraries about this technology and over the past few weeks about the Kindle. These are some of the options that your peer libraries are considering:

  • Wait to see if they are asked to carry the device by their patrons or see what other librarians are doing
  • Purchase the device to loan it to patrons, with the cost of adding new books carried by the patron.
  • Purchasing some of the collections – maybe within specific themes, say mystery novels, diet books or finance magazines – and getting them into Memory Cards to be used by the patrons who already have the Kindle (if the purchase terms allow this).
  • Purchase licenses for some volumes to be loaned to library patrons for a limited time directly into their Kindles in a similar way that other ebook or database vendors already do (if the purchase terms allow this).

While the Kindle may not be the best ebook reader, and it sure isn’t the first and won’t be the last, it is a major step into the future of reading, mainly because of its distribution system. Nevertheless, books will not disappear for a long time, and this kind of devices may not be the best alternatives to read books. But time and again users have come out with different purposes for new technology developments than those they are originally created for. This may be another example of that. Such a different way of reading will require different content, different publishers and different channels of distribution.

Most if not all librarians we have talked with are ready to embrace an ebook reader that has open standards that protect the author, publisher and also the reader, and one that is cost effective as well (such as the XO laptop). The Kindle may take us a step closer to this but it is not be there yet. If Amazon wants for it to be successful, they should ask librarians what features they’d like to see or don’t see.

Most titles pass through the library shelves and are well taken care and promoted by these professionals. eBooks will not be different. It’s just a matter of when and how, but we already know by whom. If the concerns are resolved, librarians will be first in line promoting the devices as a way to increase readership and give a better way for patrons to enjoy the written word. So Amazon, and other reader manufacturers, ask your local librarian. Judging by the volume of blog posts and comments they are writing on the Kindle, librarians will be more than happy to share their opinion.

Thank you / Muchas gracias,

Sus amigos @ SBD

Comments or Suggestions / Comentarios o Sugerencias: blog@sbdbooks.com


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