eBooks and eReaders: There Can Be Only One

Staples kindle is hereSarah’s recent post – Why I am a library traitor and love the Kindle got me thinking – WHY is she a library traitor? I know I know, but hear me out.

I have a Kindle.

I love my Kindle.

You know what I do with  my Kindle? I buy books, books I didn’t check out from the library (the horror!).

But here’s the thing, wait for it, I’ve always bought books! Books I didn’t check out from the library (gasp!) and I’ve also always used the library. Really I have been a heavy library user since I can remember. From an early age I read print books. Later I learned to love audiobooks on CD or cassette and when movies became available I checked those out too, later still I checked out and downloaded ebooks and eaudibooks. But during all this time nothing changed – I never stopped buying books (or going to the movie, or renting movies or buying movies). In fact I buy so many books that I pay the $25 a year for the Barnes & Noble membership card because I really do spend enough for it to be worth. Before I got my MLS I worked as a clerk in a larger library system during the day and on the nights and weekends at the local Barnes and Nobles, and guess what I saw many of the same people in both places. Buying books and borrowing from the library are not mutually exclusive. As I see it I bought and borrowed books before I had a Kindle I will continue to buy and borrow books after I have a Kindle. I am not borrowing from the library less.

I get Sararh’s point and concern. IF my library had ebooks and IF they had a wide selection with choices that appealed to me, nevermind the insanely high prices they would have to pay for a service that only a select group of patrons can use, those ebooks would not work on my Kindle thanks to choices by Amazon.com. But they don’t, so I bought a Kindle, guilt free, because even with the selection available from my library there aren’t enough choices to convince me that a Nook or Sony was a better option and well, lets face it, my library still has a huge number of choices avialable as print or book on CD or cassette or downloadable audio or ebook which I can read on my computer or Android phone thanks to the OverDrive app. I got a Kindle because it allows me to take notes and highlight in my books (something the library frowns upon and part of the reason I’ve always bought books) and access those notes online (something the library doesn’t offer).

Sure OverDrive and other vendors are doing their best to provide eBooks for libraries. But the process is cumbersome. If it goes well great! But if it doesn’t the pitfalls are plentifiul and woe to the techie attempting to troubleshoot them over the phone.

The truth is this the ebook readers that are out there were created to make a profit for the creator – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Borders etc. Sure some of them have allowed library ebooks to be loaded, but its not their primary purpuse and they sure as hell aren’t gonna help you figure it out. They are gonna sell you an ereader and put a boot in your butt on the way out the door. Need help with a book you bought from our store? No problem. Need help with a free book from the library or somewhere else? Too bad you’re on your own mate, nevermind that we lured you with that promise when we sold you the device. Unhappy? Angry? Gonna leave us for another ereader? Go for it! Just remember your books wont work on their devices.

This annoys me like crazy but is it really a problem? I mean I don’t expect my Play Station Games to play on an Xbox. So why should my Kindle books work on a Nook? Except that I can sell my PlayStation and the games if I decide to get an Xbox. And I can’t sell my ebooks. Except the truth is I seldom sell my books and never loan them. Bobbi doesn’t loan things, not books, not movies not games (judge all you like).  So how big of an issue is that I can’t lend my Kindle books? And as for selling them I have a pile of hardback nonfiction I’ve been trying to sell for a reasonable price on Amazon.com for 6 months now and they aren’t moving, so apparently while I could sell them, they aren’t selling either.

I don’t know how the ebook/ereader wars will play out. I do know this – I am leery of anyone who claims to. I am leery of anyone who claims there will be only one winner (we all drive different cars, why can’t we have different ereaders?)

But there is a problem and this one I am certain of – the ebook market is still playing out. Will they replace books? Supplement them? Fail all together? No one knows. But what we do know is that libraries are being cut out of the equation. That is a problem. I believe libraries are the key to closing the widening digital divide and participation gap we see.  Are ebooks are part of that solution? Maybe. And for that reason alone we need a voice.

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20 thoughts on “eBooks and eReaders: There Can Be Only One

    1. Yep. Unfortunately none of the books I have purchased are lendable. I know this sometimes a big point for the Nook. ‘m glad to see Kindle incorporating because it is a step no matter how small. But the it but the truth is its complete crap. The selection is amazingly narrow and you can only lend an item one time.


      1. Allowing any lending of ebooks at all is a huge step, though, for both Nook and Kindle. It’s been a spectre of horror to the publishers for decades; a fair number of them would be opposed to public libraries, if they were a new idea. When the publishers see it’s not as scary as they think it is, lending will become easier and less restrictive.


  1. Great post!!! Thanks for sharing your perspective. I too believe we can coexist. For me it is about ease of use and we are finding the kindles easier to implement in schools. Haven’t gone with overdrive yet…maybe we will, but right now we are still experimenting.


  2. I think you have some good points, and truth is just like game systems, ereaders will coexist and people can love what they have and work around what they don’t. As a librarian in a network that trains library staff in how to use the Overdrive system, of course I talk up and demo and support (as much as I can) what is compatible – but my father loves his Kindle app!


    1. Chris – wow. I’ve never thought about my criteria. Well I generally don’t buy fiction. Anything I think I’ll want to write in and highlight and reference later gets bought of course. I used to always buy a tradepaper back to keep in my purse at all times, usually travel essays or something about how the brain works because I like to have something with me at all times, but books tend to get battered in my purse so I don’t want to keep library one there. Sometimes I’ll listen to a book on cd from the library then buy a copy to mark up. Then of course there is the impulse buy, I see something, I want to read it so I buy nevermind the 20 or 30 unread books at home. In recent years I’ve gotten better about this – snapping a photo with my phone. Since I got the Kindle I do less impulse buying since I enforced a rule upon myself – I have to finish the sample chapter before i can buy something so my Kindle is full of samples of books that I plan to read. 🙂


      1. I should also add that many of the books the library doesn’t own and I would feel a little guilty about suggesting them for purchase as I’m not sure of the popularity of them (I say this as someone who as done collection development for years)


        1. Thanks. The bit about buying stuff the library doesn’t own is kind of what I expected but the fiction vs. non-fiction & desire to be able to annotate without damaging library materials is interesting. I had no particular motive behind the question but was honestly just curious as I’m a person who reads a ton but *very* rarely buys a book (unless it’s assigned reading for school).

          I’m really quite excited about the possibility of e-reading (after having played with the Nook Color, I’m more or less sold and I’m sure the iPad would be great, too, considering the iPhone reading experience); I just hope for a better selection that I can borrow rather than have to purchase because I really don’t do too much re-reading of titles with the exception of my favorite fiction.


          1. yep I always recommend people look at what is actually available from their library before buying a device because it will work with library books. Also I’m not sure how long you read in one stretch but if its several hours you might want to reconsider the colored screens. They are a harder on the eyes than e-ink options. I would love to have an iPad but I know I couldn’t use it for anything other than brief reading.


  3. I have a Nook, and I love it. I also use it to download ebooks from my local library. Yes, the selection is still limited, but I’ve nevertheless found books that way that I might not have looked at otherwise. Using both my local library and the Boston Public Library, the selection is wider. Also, and this I think works for any ebook reader, I get egalleys for review from NetGalley.com

    I’ve actually bought relatively few ebooks, although I expect that to change gradually.

    The great advantages for me include being able to easily carry multiple books around, and to adjust the font size. I’m more likely to borrow books by an author I haven’t read before, or something that I expect not to have a lasting need for. I tend to buy books that I know in advance to a reasonable degree of certainty that I want to keep long-term.


  4. This is a great article and you address the needs and issues library face well. Part of the problem also lies in the fact that academic research material is handled one way and trade material another way. Academic eBooks and the vendors that work with them have a pretty good system, no check in check out models, either single user or unlimited multiple user models. With trade/fiction items we always face the rights and license issues; basically what has the publisher, author or rights holder agreed to. As long as trade and academic are operated this way, we’ll never have just one, you are absolutely correct. For libraries it’s especially challenging, you face k12 students, academics doing research and leisure reading and in public libraries you face everyone.

    In all the years I have worked with libraries, the past few have been the most challenging, mostly due to poor information out there and challenges with the vendors in each market. Who does what and how and is it good.. Honestly, there are some really poor models, but then again, they are only working within the system of what they can do with what’s available, but there has to be a better way. Students and patrons are ahead of the curve and they are in some sense waiting for the library to catch up. It’s not the libraries fault, really not anyones fault, the tech has changed so fast and so much within a short time, hard to stay ahead of the curve. Keep spreading the word and having conversations, the best thing you can do is talk about the issues and connect with pubs and vendors.


  5. I’m going to have agree with Liz on this. Truly believe we will see Kindle books move into a sustainable lendable model. Kindle/Amazon just opened up lending in the last couple of weeks, so I’m willing to give them a few weeks to work it out. It’s called Beta. LOL


  6. I have an original nook e-ink and use it all the time. Buy a few books, but mostly get free or borrow from libraries. Our local has small but growing ebook collection from Overdrive, I purchase non-resident card $30/yr from a nearby larger system with larger ebook collection and as a NY state resident I have a free card from eNYPL which has something like 15,000 ebooks. So I have no lack of ebooks to borrow. The Kindle is the best out there, but I don’t want to have to purchase books, paper or electronic. So the nook is the best choice for me at this point in time. But I do feel concerned when some of our heavy local library users decide to go Kindle. Without need, demand and circulation our ebook collection does not grow as fast as it could. Not that people should not get exactly what they want but a Kindle user at this point in time means the library is in fact left out of the ebook equation. I hope someday that Kindle will embrace our public libraries. But all that is being said is right on the mark. The good thing is that we all have choices.


  7. I think the most important is reading books and not the way you get the book. Today there are many possibilities to get a book, even from the internet. I’d love to have a Kindle, because I will have better access to books.


  8. I’m afraid that for librarians of all people to be boosters of the one company that shows little interest in them is.. well perhaps it will feature as a canditate in some future Darwin Awards. Publishers and many authors are frankly not convinced that libraries have a role in the ebook world. This says it best: http://stephenslighthouse.com/2011/01/14/will-kindle-ever-add-support-for-library-books/

    “Let’s not play dead or promote Kindles as viable options for libraries. Is this enough pressure or are we wimps?”


  9. My Kindle is always in my backpack for the moment when I have the time to read a chapter in transit. It sure beats carrying something more bulky. But everything on it came from Project Gutenberg, and is free. My art books have to be bought because I must have the highest quality images, but the great classics are keeping me company. Am re-reading all of Jules Verne. I usually don’t have time to check books out, though me and my friends pass books around–we are not in high income brackets. But anything that helps me grab some reading time is something I will love. That said, I believe our libraries are getting hammered and we need them. They have cut hours back here so much that unemployed people are almost the only ones who can use them–and it even hurts THEM when there aren’t enough hours to share the classifieds. It is brutal in NYC.


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