Monday, May 26, 2008

E-books hype or the way ahead?

E-books have seemed to be on the library horizon for a decade or so now – during which we have seen evolutions in readers (to a limited degree), developments in content and changes in companies which some failing, some merging and some continuing.

This week I read two interesting articles on e-books which led me to think that we need to look again at their potential.

“But I want a real book”: an investigation of undergraduates’ usage and attitudes towards electronic books by Cynthia L Gregory is published in the Spring 2008 issue of Reference & User Services Quarterly. She reports that students have mixed attitudes about e-books, students will use e-books but prefer using traditional print books.

“The elusive e-book. Are books finally ready for prime time?” by Stephen Sottong in the May 2008 issue of American libraries is quite provocative. He criticises e-book readers as ergonomically unsatisfactory. And notes that the problems do not go away with the younger “born digital” generation. He comments of the new Kindle readers “The reason they will fail is the same one that doomed the Rocket e-book: why would anyone pay $300 to $400 for a dedicated reader device when display and interface are not as good as a paper book? “

I am reminded of an earlier study based on US universities which found that the most popular e-books in a number of libraries were those where the print copies had been stolen. I think computer sciences was one of the disciplines for which the e-books seemed to be successful, possible because not just had the print books been stolen, but the information is not generally read from page one to the final page but is used in segments, eminently suitable for use electronically.

This all gave me an opportunity to review Project Gutenberg again ( and wonder why I have never read anything that is available there. Perhaps it’s that at work I read many reports published electronically (on the computer) and that at home there remains nothing like curling up in front of a fire with paper….ah well.

E-books I am sure is something we should try out, not just watch with interest!


The Shopping Sherpa said...

On a similar note I'm fascinated by POD (print or publish on demand) technology:

including the "Espresso Book Machine"

Ross McPhee said...

You're probably already aware of this, but in some academic disciplines textbook publishers have stopped producing printed books, opting for electronic distribution instead. In areas like IT and engineering the body of knowledge changes so rapidly that these texts were outdated before they came to market.

I don't see my branch of librarianship being impacted by this to the same extent, but it won't be entirely immune, either.

Anonymous said...

A distinctiion was made in the article between hand-held ebooks and those on fixed computer displays. It is the fixed computer displays that have the ergonomic problems. Hand-held ebooks do work although the technology is still in its infancy and not suitable for libraries. Reference ebooks work well, but not those with long, linear texts.

Stephen Sottong