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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Pocket library

    Photo illustration
    Photo illustration

    The ad loomed from the back cover on The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. In bold blocked letters, the page demanded:

    Join the reader revolution!

    Strangely, the papers were advertising the very device that could spell out their demise – electronic readers.

    The “”revolution”” started two years ago, when Amazon introduced the Kindle, a digital and wireless electronic reader that sold out just hours after its original release. A Kindle has no paper, no ink and no dog-eared pages: just a screen, a handful of buttons and lines of incredibly sharp digital text.

    “”It’s usually referred to as ‘electronic ink,'”” said Peter Botticelli, an Assistant Professor of Practice for the School of Information Resources and Library Science. For a digital device, the words are remarkably clear – not at all the eyestrain that one experiences reading lengthy PDFs on say, D2L. Full-length novels arrive instantly at the click of a button, and subscribers will find their daily newspaper at their fingertips the moment they awake each morning.

    On this particular morning, a small side table sits outside Nancy Dill’s office. Tacked on to the wall above it, a sign reads “”Free books/magazines.”” Over the past few months, Dill has slowly foisted off old novels onto her colleagues. She has little need for traditional hardcovers, now that she can store hundreds of novels on her own electronic reader.

    “”The advantage of being able to get the Kindle is that you can not only get books, but you can get newspapers, books, everything,”” said Dill, who is an eLearning Specialist for University Information Technology Services.

    “”I never get to the paper in the morning. After some time, I quit subscribing because it wouldn’t come before I got to work.””

    Now, Dill can simply pick up her reader and download today’s edition of the New York Times, or any number of different newspapers from across the globe. Dill experimented with other electronic readers, but settled on Amazon’s new Kindle 2.0 (the revamped version of the original reader) before taking a trip to Alaska earlier this year. As one can imagine, hauling several novels on the plane was out of the question – an issue easily solved by the Kindle, which only weighs a mere 10 ounces.

    “”The idea used to be that you would have a collection – a library. But I think that the way that the world is going, I can see the advantage of having everything electronically,”” she said.

    Dill isn’t the only one who shares this sentiment. A recent Nielsen study found that the average American devotes a whopping 8.5 hours of their day to “”screen time,”” or face-to-face interactions with computers, televisions, iPods, Blackberries and now, electronic readers. The release of digital reading devices only makes our society more estranged with the printed word – a consequence heavily affecting the book and newspaper industry. And while digital books might mean a dire future for these industries, their implications for use in the education field has a far better outlook.

    “”I was in teacher education for years,”” said Dill. “”When I first started doing things with technology, it was spurred on by the fact that teachers didn’t have enough money to buy supplies for classrooms. But the more you could do with smaller tech machines, the more you could bring in tremendous resources.”” The utility of e-books hasn’t gone unnoticed by web giant Google. The company is currently undertaking a project to make a digital library of nearly seven million books worldwide. Dill noted that seven or eight universities have volunteered to partner with Google in the future to make this possible. This raises the question of whether textbooks could become a thing of the past in America’s major universities.

    “”There is definitely potential,”” Botticelli said of research universities allowing their libraries to become digitized. “”I could definitely see an emphasis in something like the education market, where for instance, book publishers started selling more textbooks in a digital form. They could eliminate the used book market potentially. Instead of buying access to a book in perpetuity, you could ‘rent’ access of a book for the length of a semester, for example,”” he said.

    “”But there are definitely some stumbling blocks. University libraries are certainly very interested in all the implications in this, because their role is to buy books. A switch to digital could really affect the way that libraries operate, and that would have a wider impact on the university as a whole,”” he said.

    Whether that impact would be beneficial for students is still unclear.

    “”They (universities) have a captive market – the student has to buy that book. Students could end up paying quite a bit more than they are paying now; or libraries might end up having to spend quite a bit more to acquire the content that they need,”” said Botticelli. If Google adopts the same model as Amazon, where e-books cost roughly half of what traditional hardbacks cost, the savings for students could be tremendous.

    “”It’s easier for us,”” said sophomore Christian Reed, who has worked at the UofA Bookstore since January. Reed said it’s not uncommon for students to spend around $500 on textbooks every semester, a burden that could be resolved with electronic reader digital libraries. “”It would be cheaper, and better for the environment.””

    Similarly, Dill noted that e-books promote a “”paperless”” classroom, since students will no longer have to print out supplemental readings or textbook chapters.

    “”Eventually, you’ll have the ability to read stuff for course readings, scan something, or highlight something,”” she said. After downloading a text to an electronic reader, students would be able to make notes on handouts, or highlight important information; all of which would be saved to their personal archive.

    While electronic readers could be a fantastic resource for students and teachers, many skeptics question whether it could mean the death of the printed word; an art form many are not yet ready to see disappear. After all, curling up by the fire with an “”electronic book”” doesn’t sound all that enticing. And, e-books have yet to release a color screen, keeping its technology from saturating the children’s market – at least, for now.

    “”I would hope that you would never get rid of books for young children or children’s literature,”” said Dill. “”But what will it do with adult fiction? I think that there will still be books that will be hard to find, that won’t have a demand online,”” she said. Botticelli echoes Dill’s thoughts, though he believes electronic books could certainly become the next ipod or Blackberry in terms of being the “”must have”” technological device.

    “”It’s not clear exactly what the time frame will be when people will really switch. Books have certain advantages that you will never have in a digital file. People are still going to want to collect books and share them, and buy used books. But I think there’s a lot of special niches in the book market where digital content will take off rapidly.””

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