The Oliver Wendell Holmes Library not only strives to meet the needs of our users, we also aim to anticipate those needs. Consequently, we have been staying abreast of recent developments in electronic books, and cautiously experimenting with e-reader devices and materials. Currently we have two Amazon Kindles and a Barnes and Noble Nook. One of the Kindles is a “first generation” model, and is available for loan to interested faculty and staff. The other is a Kindle DX (the large version) and is dedicated to our online subscription to The Boston Globe. It is available for use in the library by any member of the community.
E-reading devices have recently been getting a lot of publicity, and while e-books still make up a small percentage of total books sold, the “adoption curve” is increasing steeply. The devices claim to offer a reading experience comparable to that of a book, with several advantages. The first advantage is that they offer instant gratification. Many e-reading devices connect to electronic bookstores via 3G cell phone networks, without any monthly charge for that service. Therefore, obtaining content is as easy as searching for a title and pressing a button. Another advantage is portability. The devices are able to hold hundreds of titles, which certainly simplifies packing for a long trip. Finally, it is possible to instantly re-size the font, even while reading. That advantage alone has won the loyalty of middle aged readers.
The newest addition to our e-reader inventory is our Nook. From our perspective, the Nook has several advantages over the Kindle. First, it uses the ePub format, which is becoming a standard, rather than the Kindle’s proprietary format. Consequently, it may be used to offer thousands of public domain materials. Second, it “works” with Overdrive, the leading supplier of electronic books to libraries. We anticipate being able to offer a set of titles through Overdrive in the near future. Third, it permits materials to be “shared” from one Nook to another. This is a critical feature from the perspective of libraries, and is not possible with the Kindle.
But how does it stack up against a “regular” book in terms of the “reading experience?” To answer that question, I undertook to read a book on the Nook.
The Nook is a slim, lightweight device about the size of a small paperback book. It has an uncluttered face with a two-part screen. The upper screen features e-ink and serves as the reading area. The lower, smaller screen is a full-color touch screen, and serves for navigation. I deliberately did not read the manual, as I wanted to determine how easy it would be to use the reader. It was entirely intuitive. A “sleeping” Nook presents a digitized portrait of a literary luminary, and you are prompted to press a button to “wake up” the Nook. Once it is activated, the navigation screen presents four icons, and allows you to go immediately to your book in progress. If you are only reading one book, it returns you to the screen where you left off. If you are reading two or more books, you simply set bookmarks so that you can return to the right screen.
E-ink, as advertised, provides a pleasant reading experience. It would be easy to forget that you are reading on a device if the Nook had a book-like cover that permitted you to hold it like a book. Instead, it is a bit like holding a large cell phone. While that is a bit disconcerting to me, since I have considerable muscle-memory devoted to the book-holding position, it is unlikely to faze younger readers.
The navigation within a book is entirely simple. Buttons at the level of your thumbs allow you to “turn the page” with either hand. Other buttons permit backtracking, but they are positioned so as to minimize accidental use. While there is an instant delay as the screen refreshes, it is probably no more disruptive than turning a physical page. I am now 2/3 of the way through a book that was originally printed in 384 pages, and I have not had to recharge the battery. The book that I am reading electronically cost the OWHL $9.99. The print copy retails for $25.95, and the audio download is priced at $29.70. We have purchased both the e-book version and the audio book version. So far, we haven’t purchased the print version.
As our collection development policy evolves to encompass these new formats, we would very much like to hear from members of the PA community regarding your interests and preferences.