Reading Experiences: Kindle App

After years of purposely ignoring ebooks, seeing readers come and go out of the corner of my eye – and library collections and packages tried and rejected – I’m finally experimenting with a few new ways of consuming monograph-length content.  Today, I consider the Kindle App for iPhone.

Why lug around a separate device that costs hundreds of dollars when you can get a free app for the device that’s already attached to your person 24×7? I guess some people have their reasons, but after hearing a Kindle-owning colleague say that she was thinking about selling her Kindle because she usually uses the app, I decided it was time to give it a try.  And you know what?  I like it!  Here’s what I like, after reading one full-length monograph and starting a second:

  • I can read the beginning of books before I decide to buy. Not the standing-in-the-aisle kind of reading, which might get me all of one page in, or flipping-through-the-chapters kind of reading (which would be nice to have, a la Look Inside the Book), but enough of a first chapter for me to figure out if I really want to read it, and read it now. If I read to the end of excerpt and want to keep going, it’s a good indicator that my money would be well spent. I’m buying the book at “point of read.”  If it looks interesting, but I’m not ready to keep going, I’ll keep the excerpt to remind me to revisit it later. So far, this model works better for me than the 30-second song snippet as a good predictor of my interest.
  • I can annotate and highlight with abandon. It’s a fact: I cannot bring myself to write in or highlight most of the books I own, no matter how useful the notes might be. Occasionally, I read with a pencil in hand, ever-so-lightly marking spots of interest, never to find them again. Most of the time, I don’t need to make notes or highlight, but when I do, it’s great to feel free to go crazy without defacing an object.  Plus, the Kindle app treats my highlights as bookmarks, allowing me easy access to them later.  I’d like to read a book club book this way to see how it affects my contributions to the group. 🙂
  • I can travel more lightly. At this time of the year, I’m frequently lugging a pair of shoes in addition to my lunch, plus maybe some Yak Trax, an umbrella, or pilates gear. A paperback more or less may not seem like a big difference, but for one less thing in the bag and one less thing to remember, it’s nice to use the phone.  Even if I intended to take something in print, there’s always content on the phone that doesn’t require the internet.
  • I can read it easily wherever I want. OK, I haven’t taken my phone to the bathtub and have no intention of doing so anytime soon, but otherwise, the phone is stacking up pretty well against a typical trade paperback. I was talking ebooks with some family members at Thanksgiving and my aunt expressed reservations about reading an ebook during, say, a quiet dinner for one.  But think about trying to eat and read for a minute.  A magazine works pretty well: it’s a reasonable page size and it lies flat. (For the record: The New Yorker is not on the list of things I’ll prefer in e-format anytime soon.) A print newspaper? Forget it – I’ve never understood the allure of reading the paper over breakfast. SO unwieldy.  Then we have books.  When it comes to paperbacks, I don’t see too many advantages for print over the phone.   I can set the phone beside me and scroll at my convenience. I don’t have to hold onto it throughout my meal or keep turning it face down to hold my place while I cut my veggies. Curling up in bed with it? Why not? The beach? Show me an upper-middle class professional who doesn’t take their smartphone to the beach and I’ll show you one who never leaves the office. Perhaps if I had an expensive, dedicated ebook device I’d think twice about the beach, but the reality is that the phone is going to go with me anyway.

So, what don’t I like?

  • I miss browsability. I don’t mean the browsing that happens when you see what’s shelved next to a print book.  I mean the experience of scanning and flipping through a book – that I  haven’t found any e-substitute for.  My eyes are terrible, but they’re still great at quickly taking in information from the printed page, almost as fast as I can flip through a book to find a passage that caught my eye. Is that passage early or late in the text? Was it before or after another point of interest?  The place in a book and its context can be quickly constructed and ascertained.  This loss is the number one thing I dislike about reading on the Kindle App.
  • The DRM thing. I believe in fair use and first sale.  I don’t like purchasing items under contract or with terms of use that limit copyright law. This isn’t a post about the thorny issues of intellectual property and electronic formats. There are real issues and I think they’ll get worked out, but until that happens, my purchases will be very limited. For the foreseeable future, I expect to download a lot of free samples and then buy them in print.

New reports from EDUCAUSE and OCLC

Usually I rely on industry reports to put me to sleep, even those that generate lots of buzz and get described as “essential reading.” But today I’ve seen pointers to a couple reports that look really interesting and – bonus! – they each clock in at under 50 pages.

The first is the 2009 Horizon Report, the only annual report I read beginning to end every year. A collaboration between the New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE, it reports on technologies to watch in education. I always learn something new and interesting from this report, and this year promises to be no exception. If you are looking for concise, fairly non-technical overviews of hot topics such as cloud computing, with specific examples, implications, and sites you can follow up with, the Horizon Report really is “essential reading.”

The second is a new OCLC Research report (found via Lorcan Dempsey’s blog) called “Scholarly Information Practices in the Online Environment,” which discusses core scholarly activities and implications for library services. With its primary focus on activities such as reading and writing and not on the media or technologies through which they are conducted, I expect this report will bring a fresh perspective to thinking about service development.

Driving Emerging Tech

I was recently asked to speak as part of a panel on emerging technologies. Alas, I couldn’t make it, but the panel description and questions really got me thinking about how libraries decide what new projects to pursue and why. The conference in question was organized around a transportation theme (e.g., the technology bus) and I was asked to think about technologies fueling the bus.

I may be taking the phrasing too literally, as I am wont to do, but it seems to me that this is a bit of a backwards way of thinking about things. Technology should not be in the driver’s seat. Technologies are tools for getting things done. Sometimes the appropriate technology is really great signage; sometimes it is a full-fledged ERM system (just to use a totally random, off-the-top-of-my-head example). Sometimes it’s even a cool Web 2.0 app.

Instead of “what technologies should we be using?” I think the questions need to be along the lines of, “What is our library trying to accomplish? What is the best way to accomplish that? What do our users need that we aren’t offering? How can we offer that?” What is the question that the technology you’re considering answers? If you can’t answer that question, maybe you’re barking up the wrong tree, to switch metaphors.

I have wondered if the reason we can get so focused on trying new apps is because it’s a lot easier than some of the alternatives, such as meeting regularly with every faculty member in one’s subject area, or putting together a first-class marketing campaign, or trying to convince the powers that be to get librarians into every single freshman composition class. When students are characterized as being on all the time, as being permanently connected to their cell phones, MP3 players, and Facebook accounts (I’m sure I’m behind the times with my examples; I’m a lackluster veteran after all…) it can be easy to justify working with a new technology. But with cool geek exceptions acknowledged, the aforementioned are simply ways to talk, write, listen, share, cruise, and declare affinities. We should work as hard as we can to make our technologies of choice so seamless they are invisible to most users and create a loyal fan club among the rest. That goes for signage just as much as AJAXified web apps.

How Do You Know Whether You’re Early or Late?

The conventional wisdom in adopting new tech is “Neither an early adopter nor a latecomer be.” But in our ramped up “faster” world, how do you know when you’re one or the other?

I think it was just last fall that I first learned about Facebook, and just this past spring that I started hearing about libraries and librarians opening accounts there. Yet now Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook traffic was down 12% from August to September this year. That follows on the heels of reports that Facebook users were angry over changes to the service and that library profiles were being rapidly shut down (because profiles are to be for individuals only, not organizations). It’s too early to say that Facebook is over, but the news got me thinking about how we decide where to invest our energy.

When new tools rise and fall within the space of a few months or a year, perhaps it’s not early adoption to put up a profile on Facebook as soon as it hits the mainstream news. The Facebook community represents a large segment of an academic library’s user base, and one that is particularly hard to reach. Even if the profile is taken down after, say, 4 months, perhaps the work it took was worth it for that 4 months of marketing and outreach. Or perhaps not.

I think the key to experimenting with new websites, social software, and online tools is to ask “If this site/service/tool flops/gets bought/becomes uncool, will we regret the effort we’ve put in so far or will have gotten back something worthwhile for the effort?”–whether that’s new library patrons, a more informed user base, or new staff skills.

OPAL, Virtual Reality, and Academic Libraries

Looking for free or inexpensive continuing education opportunities? Check out OPAL, which describes itself as “an international collaborative effort by libraries of all types to provide web-based programs and training for library users and library staff members.” Most events are offered for free and past events are archived at the website.

One upcoming event of note for academic librarians is “Collaboration Opportunities for Academic Libraries in Second Life.” Second Life is an online virtual reality environment, and according to the program description, “This fall over 50 institutions of higher education are offering (or preparing to offer) courses in Second Life.” Is this the Next Big Thing?

Traditional Publishing and the Web

Two interesting pieces recently came across my aggregator on the topic of the web’s impact on traditional publishing.

The first is an article in the Chronicle, “Book 2.0,” about an experimental book format that allows readers to comment on the original text and the author to respond. The book under discussion, GAM3R 7H30RY by McKenzie Wark, is hosted by the Institute for the Future of the Book. The project description indicates that the book will eventually be published “in print by a conventional press” and that “Our hunch is that a good conversation generated here will result in a better book.” Wark has gotten many comments on his text, ranging from simple copy editing to close examinations of the book’s arguments.

The second piece is a blog post by Malcolm Gladwell called “The Derivative Myth.” The key questions of the post are whether or not blogging is inherently derivative and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Gladwell’s comments follow his participation in a Slate panel on print journalism and resulting conversation (partially via blogs) with Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine and author of the recently-published The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, who took issue with some of Gladwell’s comments at the panel discussion. The whole thing is worth reading partly for its very meta feel.

What Are You Wearing?

Futurist Joseph Coates discusses some predictions about what you will wear in the Future of Clothing. Among them:

  • Clothing will be able to change color and will sense changes in such things as temperature, moisture level, and anxiety
  • As they become personal e-billboards and are infused with fragrance and pheromones, clothes will play an increasingly direct role in social interactions
  • The internet and high-quality digital photography will make custom tailoring more routine
  • Global warming will increase demand for smart clothing that can adapt to fluctuating temperatures

via FutureWire

NASIG Conference: Robin Sloan of EPIC 2014 Fame

NASIG’s first Vision Session (aka plenary session) featured Robin Sloan of Current TV. The description was intriguing: “…Media is becoming digitized and disaggregated, free to float across the internet and get downloaded and uploaded, blogged and sold, pirated and appreciated, remixed and reimagined…. So what about libraries and scholarly communication?…” What I didn’t realize until he was introduced is that Robin Sloan is one of the EPIC 2014 guys.

Robin showed the EPIC 2014 movie and then talked through a similar scenario concerning libraries in the year 2016.

Two points I took from Robin’s talk:

  1. The proliferation of content on the web (including movies like EPIC 2014) means that librarians are becoming less needed as gatekeepers. “Things that resonate can get an audience,” he said–without a formal selection process by a television station, production company, or a librarian. Librarians should think about what their role will be as this trend continues.
  2. Many of the trends Robin touched on are related to social networking and online communities. To attract younger library patrons, they should think about how they can provide opportunities for building community online. For example, in an academic library, such a community might be built around a particular area of research.

A few other points that caught my ear:

  • Some people are concerned about the possible disorganized, chaotic nature of Wikipedia, but in some ways the original building of the OED was similar: a community of individuals contributing entries.
  • The “IV” nature of technology (always on, always connected) changes people’s ideas of what they need to know and what they need to remember.
  • Blogs can be described as the “connective tissue” of groups in our society.

Robin is one of two contributors to the wide-ranging blog Snarkmarket and was formerly employed by the Poynter Institute, which has an interesting website.

Keeping Up: Beyond the Library

There’s a lot of talk about “keeping up” in the profession these days. In addition to traditional journals and low-tech ways of learning like conference and workshop attendance, library blogs are proliferating and online conferences of both the free and pay variety seem to be catching on. With so many options just within the library community, the thought of trying to keep tabs on developments in the wider world is a little daunting.

Nevertheless, it’s vitally important to keep any eye on new trends and technologies outside libraries, to know how our patrons use technology, and to understand the expectations they bring to our physical and virtual spaces.

One way to do this, of course, is to observe them when they walk through the (physical or virtual) door and to ask them directly what they expect and want from library services. But it’s also important to think further ahead and to be aware of what patrons might expect one year, two years, or even–gulp–five years out.

With that in mind, here’s just a handful of places to go for non-library technology news, along with examples of the most recent topics covered by each site:

  • FutureWire: use of gaming to educate people about the crisis in Darfur, cutting edge cell phones with “digital wallet” capabilities, and new light bulb technology
  • Wired News: net neutrality
  • TechCrunch: Google Health debut?, personalized news delivery service (EPIC 2014 anyone?)
  • BoingBoing: Smithsonion/Showtime update and fallout, CBS’s new free, ad-supported internet “channel,” net neutrality, history of Play-Doh
  • Gizmodo: round of new iPod toys (yes, the iPod is a toy, but it needs its own toys too), Intel laptops for kids, professors banning laptops in the classroom

There are many more sites that could be listed here, and I’d love to hear your recommendations.

If the word “daunting” is still running through your mind, consider splitting the workload with colleagues. Agree to follow BoingBoing and forward posts of interest if your friend will do the same with Gizmodo. Start with just one site and follow it for a couple weeks. If it’s manageable, add a second, or switch to another site if you find the first one isn’t worth your while. If you tend to read library blogs, look for one or two that include a lot of references from other industries.

Just be careful that you don’t spend hours of work time reading about Play-Doh!

PS: This blog post was made possible in part by NASIG wireless access. Thank you NASIG for supporting free wireless access for conference attendees!