I am leading a panel at the Library Journal Virtual Summit, ebooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point.
Our panel description:
School Library Without Walls: New Content, New Collections
In the school environment, ebooks provide new opportunities for curriculum support, allowing content to be accessed from the library to the classroom to the home. This panel will jump into some of the major issues around ebooks in schools: making ebooks play well with the rest of the collection, promoting ebooks to other educators, and experiments with handheld devices.
As I get my slides together I am coming to the conclusion that every way I look at the ebook scene, it’s a mess. And I am seriously confused about its direction. Currently, I have no wisdom worth sharing. Nevertheless, here I go.
ebooks are big, and getting bigger, and we need to think a lot smarter than I have been thinking. Back in July, Amazon announced that for three months, Kindle ebook sales outnumbered sales of hardbacks. Simon & Schuster is launching a new media house for children’s interactive digital books.
I see a number of reasons to e-celebrate and here they are:
- ability to store lots of titles with no added backpack weight
- search capabilities
- bookmarking, highlighting, and annotating features
- dictionary support
- lower prices
- digital delivery/immediate download gratification
- ability to move your books across your devices
- adjustable font size
- audio features
- privacy (no covers show)
- potential for currency and updating
- a certain coolness factor
But busting my happy ebubble at this tipping point are a few little concerns.
First, for those ebooks that we would likely read or need cover-to-cover (fiction, popular nonfiction, and textbooks):
1. Reading device choices are confusing and overwhelming. A number of articles and posts have created matrices comparing features, but no real standard yet exists. And, at this point, that may be a good thing. But, with the exception of works in the public domain, freely available in unencrypted formats, it seems that different titles are available for different devices. etextbooks, which would lighten the load for so many of my students and hopefully bring down prices, are not available for all devices. For instance, among those offering texts are Barnes and Noble’s Nook and iPad, but our pilot Kindles do not.
Here’s a little look at the device/reader confusion on my own iPhone.
2. No really helpful school or library model has emerged for distribution. Kindle appears to limit downloads of the same title to six devices. You can create several accounts, but a whole class or a library-specific plan would be nice. I want to use the devices for book club and lit circles and to circulate multiple copies of hot items.
3. Nook supports ebook checkouts from local public libraries via Adobe Digital Editions, but I am not sure the others do. It would be cool for students borrowing school devices to also borrow titles available from their public libraries.
4. And then there are predictions that the iPad, and other portable devices that do ebooks attractively with color and media and lots of other things too, may blow a few of the others out of the market. And you can load apps for those other readers on your iPad. (Did I mention how I am lusting for an iPad?)
5. And then there are publisher worries of piracy issues with the iPad as an ereader.
As for the no-reader-necessary ebooks. (Curricular research, reference, nonfiction, lit crit essays,as well as classic fiction and sneak peaks into new stuff)
1. I worry continuously that my students are not making enough use of the free and subscription ebooks available to them. Our AP U.S. History class has made great use of Google Books when I point them to it. And so I grab titles from ebook web portals and our subscription databases and pull them into relevant pathfinders. I embed them wherever else they make sense. For instance, I’ll embed a digital edition of Hamlet on the Hamlet Remixed lesson and for an art project, I’ll grab public domain titles on Greek pottery.
2. I play with the digital equivalent of face-out shelving, regularly embedding ebooks on our homepage to advertise classics and new titles and other great reads. I try to embed our Gale ebook search box nearly everywhere, but I don’t think that button attracts as much action as it should. I’ve also created wiki and thumbnail pathfinders to help me and our students find the major portals.
3. All this ebook pointing to and embedding action is a bit of work, but I think it’s worth it. And I wish I could embed titles of those subscription books too. For instance, I can link to the netLibrary search box, but I can’t seem to link to or embed individual titles.
4. I worry that even though I try to get my reference ebooks loaded in my catalog, my catalog is not always my students’ starting place for research–often it’s those pathfinders and databases–and I am not certain students will go to the trouble of opening them there in the catalog. And most times the link to the fulltext appears on the very bottom of the catalog record. I need to figure out how to fix this. Why can’t they open right away right in the catalog?
5. It appears that one vendor is about to dominate the ebook market as a jobber with its ebook publisher agreements and its wealth of attractive, interactive, cataloged titles. That’s a lovely thing, probably. But should we worry about one vendor’s dominance?
6. It appears that that one vendor has its own circ/cat system that will likely dominate the industry with seamless ebook management and distribution. What happens if you don’t happen to have that circ/cat?
7. One of the best and richest subscription ebook collections, netLibrary, has a licensing system that drives my students crazy. It kinda follows a physical library model. My students used to opening the same article simultaneously across a whole class or grade are unused to and frustrated by the message: We’re sorry. Your library’s copies of this eContent is currently in use. You may use one of the option(s) below. 1. View the table of contents of this title now. 2. Request to be notified when this title becomes available.
8. At this moment only one of my favorite reference ebook vendors, Gale, has a mobile ebook app. I want them all on my students’ phones.
9. Will the future of ebooks be vendor- and/or platform-driven? Will librarians have any voice at all in how it all shakes out?
10. At this stage, based on informal polling, my students are divided. While some love their personal Kindles and other readers, others prefer the feel and smell and legibility of physical text.
So, while we wait for the market to shake out, while we wait for school and library business models to emerge, it’s probably best to jump in, to pilot readers and digital purchases for our catalogs, and to point to, embed and share.
It’s probably best to enjoy reading in all its glory, on all its varied emerging platforms. And to get young readers used to change.