Two years ago, four librarians at Oregon State University shared our initial thoughts about using dedicated e-readers for the first time. We had just launched a year-long study of academic librarian use of e-readers and were excited to share our new-found joys, along with concerns about the four e-readers used in the study.
Two years later, the study is finished (look for the study results later this fall in the Journal of Library Innovation), and the mobile reading landscape has changed significantly due to the introduction of many new and more versatile e-reading devices, especially tablets. Given this changed landscape, we decided to check in, share where we are with e-reading, and reflect on our experiences with the e-readers that started us down this path.
Uta Hussong-Christian: Sony Reader Pocket Edition
I stopped using my Sony Reader Pocket Edition (Pocket Reader) for good just five months after first receiving it in early August 2011. I berated myself for creating e-waste (in most other areas of my life I try to live with a very small footprint), but I could not go back. What happened, you ask? It’s pretty simple. I received an iPad for Christmas that year. What you need to understand is that initially I had high praise and high hopes for my Pocket Reader. E-ink lived up to its promises of superb readability in various lighting conditions, the e-reader was compact, the PDF reflow feature worked quite nicely for the most part, and the battery life was great. Considering that one of my main intended uses was work-related reading of PDF articles, all of these things were important. I noted in that early evaluation that I was concerned about the lack of wifi on the particular model I had. In the end (any maybe even from the very beginning), that was its fatal flaw for me. With the Pocket Reader, I had to pre-load content via my laptop whenever I wanted to roam with it. Whereas with the iPad, I was able to easily access and read content “anytime, anywhere” I had a wireless signal. For some, the ability to multitask on a tablet is a distraction. For me, that is a preferred feature. I use my iPad to read personal and professional literature, take notes, surf the web, and watch my preferred programming (I do not subscribe to cable television at home). I no longer travel with my notebook computer and my e-reader; I travel with my iPad. Mobile reading on the Pocket Reader was nice. But what I came to realize was that a device that allowed for mobile reading, mobile Web access, and mobile productivity was the perfect device for me. Goodbye e-reader. Hello tablet!
Laurie Bridges: Nook Simple Touch
I haven’t quite given up on my Nook, although it has been sitting, unused, on my nightstand for more than a few months. To be fair, the only book I’ve read in the last six months is Wildwood, by Colin Meloy. I read the hardback, which I borrowed from a nine-year old friend. I loved the ragged edges of the pages, its book-ish smell, and the illustrations throughout. Picking up that big, chunky tome rekindled the excitement I had for books as a pre-teen, when I’d lose myself in the small world I shared with a book’s characters. I haven’t been able to recreate that magic nor nostalgia with the e-reader. However, I like traveling with the lightweight Nook, and I haven’t taken up reading books on my iPad or iPhone.
I have a first generation iPad, which I got prior to the Nook. Believe it or not, I prefer the Nook. Why? First, it’s lighter. Not by much, but every ounce helps when reading books while curled up on my side in the wee hours of the night. Second, I like the e-ink display. It’s great outside, inside, in bright light, or in low light.
So, what’s the drawback to Nook reading? I had to purchase an e-reading light to use it at night, my preferred leisure reading time. Using my Nook requires charging two devices—a light and the Nook. I’m one of those people who often misplace small things, like keys. And, Nook lights. Where is my Nook light right now? I have no idea. And this is why I haven’t picked up my Nook in a few months—I’d have to first find, and then charge, my light. There must be other people like me, because Nook now comes with a Glowlight that’s integral to the device (Nook, if you’re reading this, you can send mine to the Valley Library, Corvallis, OR).
And, as a final thought, sometimes, for me, life gets in the way of reading. This past year I’ve learned to knit, and all my reading hours have been taken up with feverish knitting. Soon this obsession will wane, and I’ll lead a more balanced life that includes both knitting and reading books. But, for now, the Nook remains on my nightstand until I find, and charge, the light.
Jane Nichols: Kindle 3G with Special Offers
Like my colleagues, my Kindle sits unattended shoved under my desk among all the other materials I hope to read one day. My eventual disuse shouldn’t be surprising, given my initial complaints about navigation and limitations with reading PDF articles. Reflecting on my route to Kindle neglect and ultimately rejection, I realize my complaints became deal-breakers rather than the benign annoyances I thought I could ignore.
For me, navigation using the keyboard and five-way controller was tiresome. Compared to my other devices, a smartphone and tablet, that have gesture-based navigation, the controller feels slow and outmoded. Touch technology is simply easier than using a controller to click, click, click my way around a screen, slowly nudging the cursor to precisely position itself to finally make my selection. I like swiping through menu options to quickly jump from front to back and chapters in-between. Over time, I found myself preferring the Kindle app on my smartphone and tablet to the e-reader.
Reading articles in PDF continues to be a significant way I try to keep up with librarianship, academia, and technology. Whether I wanted to read articles scanned from print or downloaded from the Internet, Kindle’s incompatibility with these PDFs required extra steps to legibly display them. I was able to send myself some articles via Instapaper, which automatically converted them into a Kindle-compatible format. While Instapaper is a fantastic service, it wasn’t always convenient, and I wasn’t always diligent about sending or reading articles.
The accumulation of a few other factors also influenced my decision to not adopt the Kindle e-reader. I found that a lot of the books I wanted to read are still in paper; so I ended up borrowing many print books. This reflects the fact that I’m not a big book buyer and tend to borrow rather than purchase books, even though Amazon makes purchasing books dead simple. For the ebooks I was able to borrow or the few I decided to purchase, my eyes were drawn to their colorful book jackets when neatly displayed in the Kindle app on my phone and tablet. Once accustomed to a little splash of color, I sought out color. Even the few blue hyperlinks sated my eyes. The gray and white Kindle felt like an old black and white TV in comparison. Since I can do the same e-reading using the Kindle app on my full-color smartphone or tablet, I’m not feeling the loss of a dedicated e-reader. When I eventually dig out the Kindle to let it go, I’ll send it off with gratitude for the role it has played in my evolution as an e-reader, and happily turn to my smartphone and tablet.
Evviva Weinraub Lajoie: Kobo Touch
I loved my Kobo. Truly, I did. However, like my colleagues, I also abandoned my e-reader. I remember sitting on my bed in a conference hotel room, looking down at a large bound copy of the Walking Dead graphic novel and four different devices plugged into outlets, littering my bed, all vying for my attention, and saying “THIS is crazy!” There is no way I need to have this many devices, nor do I need to carry around this much weight.
Like Jane, not everything I wanted to read was available as an ebook. I didn’t purchase much, though I probably borrowed an average of two books a week from my public library. I still read graphic novels in paperback, but I found myself making decisions about what I would read based on whether it was available electronically or not. I still had zero interest in reading on my iPad, feeling it was too large and ungainly to read from comfortably. Plus, I really hated dealing with the glare when I tried to read outside.
Then, last November, I won an iPad mini at Educause, and that everything changed. I found myself with a smaller device that met all of my needs. I was able to purchase or download ebooks from a variety of sources, including my public library, and read them all on the same device. I could browse and download Kobo’s free books whenever I was online, and I was still able to use all of the social media aspects of reading through Kobo. In fact, it was even easier. I still have to deal with glare issues, but it seems easier with the smaller screen to find patches of shade. The flexibility that the tablet offers is great, and having access to any reader is nice. I like that I can read any document type I want on my tablet, and not find myself frustrated when I accidentally borrow the PDF and not the EPUB version of a text.
I loved my e-reader. I loved that the device was designed to be used in a social age and that the Kobo app only enhanced that experience. But I think I finally finished drinking my cup of Kobo Kool-Aid when Kobo’s customer service offered to replace my e-reader when two of the pixels died on the screen.
I hope that my well-loved, but now abandoned, e-reader has found a new life and isn’t sitting under a pile of books gathering dust. I donated it to Develop Africa, an organization working to bring our abandoned and discarded technologies to youth in Africa.
Transitioning via the Bridge
Reflecting on our collective experiences, we now understand that our dedicated e-readers served both as bridge technology and transitional technology. Two years ago, dedicated e-readers introduced us to the convenience of reading on mobile devices. For three of us, this bridge to e-reading allowed us to reconnect with what we thought was a long-lost pleasure. None of us abandoned print books, but e-readers increased the reading options available to us and for that we are grateful.
Two years later, we (mostly) are all still e-reading. Although we initially praised the single-function purpose of e-readers, our experiences pushed several of us to try other multifunctional e-reading devices. Tablets, in particular, solved some of our e-reader annoyances but also expanded our e-book reading options via e-reader apps, gave us access to other entertainment options, and allowed us to be productive when reading time was over no matter where we were. In the end, our dedicated e-readers helped us transition to technology that met multiple needs without the need for multiple devices.
Uta Hussong-Christian, Jane Nichols, Laurie Bridges, and Evviva Weinraub Lajoie are all librarians at Oregon State University Libraries.