July/August 2009 issue

Books On the Go: An Overview of eBook Readers

by Sue Sirkis, Technical Services Librarian

Over the past few months, I have done several group and one-on-one demonstrations of ebook readers, using my personal Sony Reader PRS-505, Kindle 2, and iTouch, along with the library’s recent arrival, the Kindle DX.

There is a lot of interest in these devices in the Judiciary, both for personal and business use. Even with the press that ebook readers have received lately, many people have never seen an ebook reader in person, and are confused about how they work and what they can do.

Why is there so much interest in ebook readers? More and more material is created in electroniconly format. The main problem with this is that most people do not enjoy reading lengthy documents on a computer screen. Many ebook readers use eInk displays, which closely resemble ink on paper and are readable in bright sunlight, making it much easier on the eyes than a backlit, flickering computer screen. To make things even better, ebook readers generally have several font sizes available, allowing any ebook to become large print. The Kindle even comes with a text-to-voice converter, which actually reads the book to you.

As our lifestyles become more mobile, the ability to carry literally hundreds of books and documents in a device the size of a paperback is very enticing. The ability to download a book 24/7 and begin reading right away is another advantage of ebooks. Some libraries offer ebooks for checkout which may be read on the Sony Reader, with no worries about late fees since they check themselves back in! Many readers have the ability to highlight text, add your own notes, and make multiple bookmarks, all of which can be easily removed when no longer needed.

There are several negatives to ebook readers, however. As with most other electronic media, ebooks come in multiple formats which may become obsolete over time and which may not work with all readers. Only a limited number of devices may access one account, making it difficult to share books. At this point in time, reselling ebooks is not possible, although some publishers are experimenting with renting books, primarily textbooks for students. Format is also a concern for some, since the ability to resize text also means that spacing changes, and the end results are not always pretty. This is especially true with documents whose original format was larger than the screen size and for PDF documents.

The number of ebooks available is growing daily, however there is still far more available in print. The only legal publisher that has a significant amount of material available for ebook readers is Practicing Law Institute (PLI). So far West, Lexis, and most of the other legal publishers do not have any plans to publish books for these devices.

I am often asked which is my favorite, but as with most electronic gadgets, there is no onesize- fits-all solution. The industry is in a state of rapid development, and many people are opting to wait and see what the future has to offer. Others dive right in and are hooked on the many conveniences that ebook readers have to offer.