February 7, 2023

Four Librarians, Four E-readers, Two Years

E-readersTwo years agofour 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.



  1. Oh no, I just bought an e-reader! :)

    I too had to decide between a tablet and an e-reader, but I felt that tablets have too many distracting functionality. Also, I wanted to stay away from the LCD screen (laptop) that I use extensively. e-reader solves my purpose right now and I love it. Let me see what happens after 2 years.

    I have not upgraded my mobile to a smart phone. And I don’t think I’ll upgrade the Kindle to a Tablet. I feel that smart phones and tablets are wasteful technologies.

  2. I’m just the opposite of the librarians

    Started with tablets for reading (one eyeball so enjoy the ability to increase line spacing and font size for reading comfort) then tried out a Kobo Aura HD ereader

    Tablet has been gathering dust next to the computer ever since – the high resolution screen of the Aura coupled with the built in light makes for a great reading experience no matter where i am

  3. Destination,
    sounds like you’ve made a great choice given all your considerations! I’m curious to learn which e-reader you chose.
    We all struggle with e-waste, As a society, we’re going to have to figure it out! How do others handle this?

  4. I also started with a dedicated e-reader a couple of years ago. I like the e-ink displays with the optional on/off backlights, like the Kobo Glo, Nook with glowlight, etc. Battery life is great. For straight reading a dedicated device is lovely. But I also do a lot of editing, and a tablet is more useful for that primarily because the dedicated devices lack good software support for exporting annotations. My perfect device would be like a Kobo Glo, with the Mantano Reader software (best features for exporting annotations).

    I’ve ended up with 5 devices. The Nook Simple and Color are the least used, partly because their software hasn’t kept up. Most used are the Kobo Glo and Arc.

  5. Dedicated ereader for all long form reading. Phone for short fiction. When I’m reading non-fiction, I also have my tablet nearby for easy searching of whatever rabbit hole the book is sending me down.

    I find the LCD screens and weight of tablets do not make a great reading experience for me.

    Just as an aside- I last read fiction in paper sometime in early 2009. Since then, I have yet to find a novel available only in paper that I absolutely have to read. I just move on to one that is in my preferred format.

  6. I recently moved from a five year old Sony Reader to a Kobo Aura HD. I also have a tablet, but when it comes to reading, I prefer the e-ink, since it is so much easier on the eyes. Given a choice, I will go with the e-ink. Plus, the tablet tempts me with Candy Crush, Youtube, and other stuff. Dedicated ereaders let me focus just on the book.

    I read a *lot* (nearly 100 books a year). And while I try to use the library, I still have a lot of paper books in my house. So much so that over the last few years I’ve tried to go with the ebooks for the entertainment reading. It saves a lot of space. And the industry (other than Kindle) moving to epub means that I was able to move my books from the Sony to the Kobo without a hiccup. Yay industry standards.

    I also have a twitchy back, so I have to say, when reading on the run, it is so much better to carry my Kobo than a 600 page hardcover (for example) on top of all the other stuff I carry on a daily basis. And when travelling, I just load that thing up, fully charge it, and I don’t run out of material or charge before coming home (one charge usually lasts me about 3 weeks)

    I don’t plan to give up my ereader any time soon. And after more than five years with an ereader, I can be pretty definitive about that.

  7. I love my nook simple touch. I cannot read backlit screens for long without getting headaches, so I when I’m reading books, I stick to my simple touch. I love that I can carry my entire library with me, and I’m trying desparately to get rid of clutter (sacrilege! Books are clutter?! I’m trying to be an anti-hoarder) in my house. However, I also have a nook hd+ for magazines. I have eliminated magazine clutter. Since I read magazine articles in shorter doses, I can deal with the backlit screen.

  8. I absolutely love my Kindle Paperwhite. I read lots of books, some in print, some electronic. I love that my Paperwhite holds lots of books, gets them via wireless, and is easy to read. I can change the font size and change how bright I want it. It’s easy on my eyes. I can read it in the dark. It’s easy to transport (fits in my purse) and is lightweight. Big heavy hardback books are hard on my hands & wrists. I still read some of them anyway, but the Kindle Paperwhite is my favorite.