Welcome to the Library. Say Goodbye to the Books

Things are changing!  For many years e-books have resided in the back waters of publishing.  Early adopters and gadget freaks have read them but the vast majority of the population were either unaware of them or didn’t care.

Kindle DX: Amazon's New Addition To the Kindle FamilyThe lowly status of the e-book may be about to change—and radically.  David Weir, in a BNET (a business and management blog) article outlines five reasons why he believes e-book publishing and use is reaching their tipping point--becoming widely accepted and on the way to outpacing printed books in popularity.

1.  Screen reading now rivals paper reading, and for those of us in the over 40 set, screen reading is often easier on the eyes thanks to adjustable font sizing.

2.  Consumer awareness has increased dramatically.  A year ago, consumers were skeptical and resistant to e-books.  Today, consumers are doing a complete 180.  The early adopters have celebrated their Sony Readers, Kindles and iPhones to their friends, and now their friends want in.

3.  The amount of content is increasing.  Free books have served as a gateway drug to many early adopters.

4.  Ebooks are impulse buys.  I met a guy at the Las Vegas airport last month who told me he purchased a Sony Reader so he wouldn’t have to lug around 20 pounds of technical manuals.  Now he finds himself buying more fiction than ever before because it’s so easy and convenient.

5.  Value.  E-books are cheaper.

My Personal Experience

I love books.  My study is wall to wall books and I have spent thousands of dollars on my traditional library.  I love to read and I love the feel and smell of books.

img_0002Nevertheless, my reading habits are changing.  In fact, I recently finished reading Dr. Poythress’ excellent book, Redeeming Science (384 pages) on my iPhone version of the Kindle (Read a review: Amazon launches Kindle application for the iPhone).

After reading Dr. Poythress’ book on my iPhone, I have concluded that I would love to have the Kindle DX for the vast majority of my reading.  In fact, I would like to duplicate my printed library on the Kindle.

Hint to my wife: great Christmas present!

Although there are some drawbacks to e-books/e-readers relative to printed books (mainly sentimental), the advantages are numerous including:

1. The ability to read books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs anywhere anytime without the need to carry large books and dirty newspapers.  The Kindle DX for example is just over 1/3 of an inch, as thin as most magazines.  This is particularly an advantage when traveling or when in waiting rooms.

2. The ability to literally carry a library in my pocket or laptop case.  I could carry to 3,500 books, periodicals, and documents in the Kindle DX.

3. For those of us who are a little older, the ability to adjust font size is a big advantage (yes, pun was intended).  The Kindle DX has a 9.7" diagonal e-ink screen and reads like real paper and boasts 16 shades of gray for clear text and sharp images.  Additionally, the device has a display that auto-rotates from portrait to landscape as you turn the device so you can view full-width maps, graphs, tables, and Web pages.

4. I can read PDF documents enabling me to read my personal and professional documents on the go.

5. With wireless 3G I can download books and magazine to the Kindle DX anytime, anywhere; there are no monthly fees, no annual contracts, and no hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots.

6.  Currently, Amazon has over 300,000 e-books; many of which are only $9.99.

7. I can have subscriptions to U.S. and international newspapers including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal (both of which I read), magazines including The New Yorker and Time, plus popular blogs, all auto-delivered wirelessly.

8. I could have an electronic backup of my library.  If house_on_fire there a fire in my house, I would find it hard and probably impossible to replace many of my out of print books.  If my library was on the Kindle, I could re-download my library from Amazon, Project Gutenberg, etc.

According to the Kindle Review, a lot of the books available at Project Gutenberg are already available in Kindle .azw format at ManyBooks (if you’re using your laptop). There are 19,505 eBooks available at ManyBooks and they’re all free! When you get to the page for an individual book, just click on the dropdown at the top right that says ‘Free Download’ + ‘ Select Format’ and the FIRST option is Kindle.

Note: You can browse and download Manybooks on the Kindle. @ mnybks.net

For Project Gutenberg books that are not available at ManyBooks, you can go to the Project Gutenberg Website. You can download EVERY book on Gutenberg to your Kindle for Free. No conversion required. This is a good page to start at Project Gutenberg to get Free Kindle eBooks.

Potential for Our Schools

I am not prepared to go as far as Cushing Academy (see below) but I am reviewing the potential of using Kindles, netbooks, and other electronic devices to supplement our library and textbooks.  One of the great advantages for our students would be that they would not have to carry heavy book bags around all day.

Welcome to the library. Say goodbye to the books.

Cushing Academy embraces a digital future

By David Abel, Globe Staff  |  September 4, 2009

Boston prep school nixes all the books in its library, replaces them with 18 e-readers

ASHBURNHAM - There are rolling hills and ivy-covered brick buildings. There are small classrooms, high-tech labs, and well-manicured fields. There’s even a clock tower with a massive bell that rings for special events.

Cushing Academy has all the hallmarks of a New England prep school, with one exception.

This year, after having amassed a collection of more than 20,000 books, officials at the pristine campus about 90 minutes west of Boston have decided the 144-year-old school no longer needs a traditional library. The academy’s administrators have decided to discard all their books and have given away half of what stocked their sprawling stacks - the classics, novels, poetry, biographies, tomes on every subject from the humanities to the sciences. The future, they believe, is digital.

“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. “This isn’t ‘Fahrenheit 451’ [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’

Instead of a library, the academy is spending nearly $500,000 to create a “learning center,’’ though that is only one of the names in contention for the new space. In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.

And to replace those old pulpy devices that have transmitted information since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s, they have spent $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by Amazon.com and Sony. Administrators plan to distribute the readers, which they’re stocking with digital material, to students looking to spend more time with literature.

Those who don’t have access to the electronic readers will be expected to do their research and peruse many assigned texts on their computers.

“Instead of a traditional library with 20,000 books, we’re building a virtual library where students will have access to millions of books,’’ said Tracy, whose office shelves remain lined with books. “We see this as a model for the 21st-century school.’’

Not everyone on campus is sold on Tracy’s vision.

They worry about an environment where students can no longer browse rows of voluptuous books, replete with glossy photographs, intricate maps, and pages dog-eared by generations of students. They worry students will be less likely to focus on long works when their devices are constantly interrupting them with e-mail and instant messages. They also worry about a world where sweat-stained literature is deemed as perishable as all the glib posts on Facebook or Twitter.

Liz Vezina, a librarian at Cushing for 17 years, said she never imagined working as the director of a library without any books.

“It makes me sad,’’ said Vezina, who hosts a book club on campus dubbed the Off-line Readers and has made a career of introducing students to books. “I’m going to miss them. I love books. I’ve grown up with them, and there’s something lost when they’re virtual. There’s a sensual side to them - the smell, the feel, the physicality of a book is something really special.’’

Alexander Coyle, chairman of the history department, is a self-described “gadget freak’’ who enjoys reading on Amazon’s Kindle, but he has always seen libraries and their hallowed content as “secular cathedrals.’’

“I wouldn’t want to ever get rid of any of my books at home,’’ he said. “I like the feel of them too much. A lot us are wondering how this changes the dignity of the library, and why we can’t move to increase digital resources while keeping the books.’’

Tracy and other administrators said the books took up too much space and that there was nowhere else on campus to stock them. So they decided to give their collection - aside from a few hundred children’s books and valuable antiquarian works - to local schools and libraries.

“We see the gain as greater than the loss,’’ said Gisele Zangari, chairwoman of the math department, who like other teachers has plans for all her students to do their class reading on electronic books by next year. “This is the start of a new era.’’

Cushing is one of the first schools in the country to abandon its books.

“I’m not aware of any other library that has done this,’’ said Keith Michael Fiels, executive director of the American Library Association, a Chicago-based organization that represents the nation’s libraries.

He said the move raises at least two concerns: Many of the books on electronic readers and the Internet aren’t free and it may become more difficult for students to happen on books with the serendipity made possible by physical browsing. There’s also the question of the durability of electronic readers.

“Unless every student has a Kindle and an unlimited budget, I don’t see how that need is going to be met,’’ Fiels said. “Books are not a waste of space, and they won’t be until a digital book can tolerate as much sand, survive a coffee spill, and have unlimited power. When that happens, there will be next to no difference between that and a book.’’

William Powers, author of a forthcoming book based on a paper he published at Harvard called “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal,’’ called the changes at Cushing “radical’’ and “a tremendous loss for students.’’

“There are modes of learning and thinking that at the moment are only available from actual books,’’ he said. “There is a kind of deep-dive, meditative reading that’s almost impossible to do on a screen. Without books, students are more likely to do the grazing or quick reading that screens enable, rather than be by themselves with the author’s ideas.’’

Yet students at Cushing say they look forward to the new equipment, and the brave new world they’re ushering in.

Tia Alliy, a 16-year-old junior, said she visits the library nearly every day, but only once looked for a book in the stacks. She’s not alone. School officials said when they checked library records one day last spring only 48 books had been checked out, and 30 of those were children’s books.

“When you hear the word ‘library,’ you think of books,’’ Alliy said. “But very few students actually read them. And the more we use e-books, the fewer books we have to carry around.’’

Jemmel Billingslea, an 18-year-old senior, thought about the prospect of a school without books. It didn’t bother him.

“It’s a little strange,’’ he said. “But this is the future.’’