Who’s Drinking the Kool Aid?
Last night my friend asked me why I haven’t purchased an iPad2 for myself. It’s a logical question given what I do for a living. My knee-jerk (and actual) response was, “I cannot deal with one more electronic device,” which is and is not true. My power strip has no room for one more plug and with two cell phones, one iPhone, two Kindles, a netbook, a laptop, one digital camera and a partridge in a pear tree, I am on severe overload. But I have a feeling that an iPad2 is not far away. I imagine I will use it for the applications, but what I really want to use it for is reading books the way they were meant to be read.
I just finished reading my first non-fiction title on one of the two Kindles I own. It wasn’t until after I finished reading the last page of the text that I realized that the book had a pretty hefty notes section in the back that provided some very meaty supplemental information. I felt cheated.
Every day I am surrounded by articles, emails, advertisements, etc., regarding e-books. (Clearly it’s an occupational hazard). And until today I felt somewhat guilty that our library was not providing our users with access to thousands upon thousands of these treasures. (Yes, we do have a small e-book collection, but nothing compared to other libraries across the country). Why haven’t we jumped on the bandwagon like so many of our sister institutions to provide access to the latest and greatest titles of all time? And after today’s reflection, I think I have a partial answer. Indeed, we should be making available certain titles in certain genres; but we need to be careful about what we will acquire and make sure our patrons understand why we are limiting our offerings.
To start this dialogue we should understand the different types of e-books that are out there. In our library, we have classified them into four areas: textbooks, reference works, scholarly works and fun stuff. Up until last week, I only used my Kindle for fun stuff and I found it to be great for that type of reading. I can adjust the font size to accommodate my aging eyes, which has helped alleviate much of the eyestrain I was experiencing when doing extensive reading. But after reading my non-fiction book this week, I realized I sacrificed some serious content just so my peepers could be more comfortable. I am not sure I would do that again anytime soon.
The professional literature tells me that the advantages for e-books include: anywhere/anytime access, easy storage, good for quick reference and searching, and the potential for clear graphics and images, just to name a few. I find this to be true, but I also find this to be a touch limiting. I’m the kind of person who when reading a work of non-fiction gets out those little flags that mark pages so that I can refer back to the notes that I have made on those pages. (I do this sometimes with fiction as well). I also use the flags to keep my place in case the book has any endnotes. This is virtually impossible to do with any of e-book readers out there. And until these e-readers undergo a radical change to accommodate the different ways people read books, I don’t see our library drinking the kool aid and jumping on the bandwagon to provide scholarly works any time soon just because we can. As another friend of my mine used to say, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”