Monday, June 25, 2012

Drowning in the E-Book Pool

I like E-Books, in fact most books I recently read were E-Books. I love my Kindle Fire and could not  live without it.  With that said I have taken a cautious approach to E-Books in my school library. What follows is an overview of various E-Book approaches, and one that actually excites me a little.

My issue with the Kindle or other popular readers is that they are personal reading devices and technology in a school setting is communal by nature.  There is no way to checkout the device and then at a later time checkout E-Books for that device. In addition for the device to correctly function, E-Reader, E-Book, and identity must be inseparably linked.

How does one move E-Books from device A to device B when the identity on a particular device is continually changing. Do you create a system where books are continually moving from Device A to Device B, or have books 1,2, and 3 always on device A and books 4, 5, and 6 always on device B. That of course does not even touch the identity issue. The books belong to the library not the identity who happens to be using it at a point in time. One could set it up as Kindle Set 1, Kindle Set 2, but then the patron loses some of the best functions of the Kindle.

The struggle here is like two worlds or languages attempting a translation that can never perfectly occur. Libraries by definition deal with communal books, and Kindle by default are personal devices which are tightly linked with E-Books and identity. Rather than forcing a translation, maybe the answer is treating the device (Kindle) not the books as our focus of concern. We stop trying to push the square Kindle in the round E-Book hole, and instead just deal with what we see, a Kindle.

In the public library setting you have Overdrive which attempts to separate device and book to a certain extent. What Overdrive does is say we will pretend these E-Books are just real books and create a system that will treat them as such for the end user.  The desire to treat an E-Book as a P-Book might  make sense at first look, but on closer examination its just silly. There are no physical laws stopping an E-Book from being on multiple devices simultaneously. Any system that forces E-Books to comply with the physical laws of P-Books will never make any sense to me.

Follett sells E-Books in the school setting. Like Overdrive the idea is to pretend they are like a P-Book. Most of the E-Books Follett sells are single user E-Books that are checked in and out like a P-Book. School librarians like this because this is the system they are familiar with for P-Books. Follett also offers an "unlimited" version of some E-Books for a slightly higher price.

Last year I ordered several of these E-Books (unlimited) for teacher use. I own these books flat out, multiple users can checkout the book, and they can be used simultaneously. These books look nice on a computer or a Follett app, but there is no reflowing of text. They are great for picture books or non-fiction with lots of pictures, not so great with chapter books. I focused on "teaching books", non-fiction texts that would be ideal for an instructional setting. My Follett rep mentioned I was the only librarian in the district who choose this option.

Brain Hive
The newest E-Book option for schools, Brain Hive, will be beginning this fall.  There are no start up  costs, you have access to 100,000's of E-Books, and each checkout will only cost you .99 Cents.   Really what we have here is an E-Book rental system for school libraries.  You can create a budget so  the rentals will not get out of control. Brain Hive will work with any computer that has a browser as well as the I-Pad.   I suspect the interface will be very similar to the unlimited Follett E-Books.

Free Yourselves
Librarians need to break the chains that bind them.  E-Books are not P-Books. P-Books have the limitation of physical space, a hundred P-Books takes up quite a bit of your library. E-Books are different, one E-Book takes up no more space than 100, you are not moving the E-Book from one computer to a device but simply creating another copy.   

The desire to recreate our P-Book system in an E-Book world is more constraining than liberating. E-Books by there very nature do not carry the same constraints as P-Books, we certainly should not add them as an afterthought.  Systems like Overdrive or even Follett (single use) do just that, they add a barrier that existed with P-Books to their E-Book system. The great advantage of E-Books is that we are liberated from the physical constraints of space. We don't have to wait on hold for a book because its in circulation, with an E-Book you just make a copy.  

I think both Follett (multi-use) and Brain Hive are where we should be headed. If you can have access to 100,000's of E-Books that takes away a big motive for ownership itself. The reason you buy books is so your users will have access, right? What if your users could have total access but your library only paid for the books students actually checked out.  That is exactly the model Brain Hive plans to bring to school libraries. I think their approach is more future driven than most of the so called E-Book solutions out there.