When ebooks & ereaders are on your holiday shopping list…

“I’m thinking of buying an ereader this winter. Which one does the library recommend?”

In the next month, you may be shopping for yourself, or considering a purchase as a gift for someone else. While I can’t recommend a particular product for you to purchase, librarians can help you learn more about your options. Research is one of our favorite things after all, right up there next to helping you find a good book!

Does the library check out ebooks?

The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library is committed to providing ebooks for our customers, and we will be adding more ebooks throughout 2012 as part of our library’s collections. Read more about how to use our ebook collections here. If your gift recipient is outside of our library’s service area, you might consider a sneaky phone call to their hometown library’s reference desk to check on ebook availbility there.

First off, just asking a friend if they like their Nook or Kindle or Sony Reader or iPad probably isn’t enough information to help you make a good purchase decision for yourself. Eink and color tablets provide very different reading experiences. And the tasks the person uses the device for besides reading is an important part of the decision. Just because you don’t check your email, play games or browse the web while you are taking a break from reading a book now doesn’t mean you won’t start doing some of those things if your ereader makes it possible! Whether the ereader owner also has a home computer with internet access and wifi may also affect whether they can make use of the library’s ebook lending service and what type of device would be more useful.

Reading is becoming situational

Our library’s CEO, Gina Millsap, shared with me a few weeks ago that she believes reading is becoming situational. The casual paperback for the beach, treasured hardback on the shelf, audiobook in the car, ebooks and audiobooks on your smartphone, plus ebooks on a tablet, laptop or ereader. Books and reading are more accessible to people than ever, and the library loves it!

Personally, I have two ereaders — an older model Nook with B&W eink and a newer model iPhone.  The Nook is a dedicated ereader, I don’t use it for anything else. Because it is an eink screen, I can read it during the daylight, or use a booklight to see the words of my ebook at night. The iPhone is always in my pocket, which means my ebook is always nearby, along with the distractions of my email, facebook, youtube, and dozens of games on my smartphone. Because it is an LCD screen, it can be hard to see in bright sunlight, but at night I don’t need a seperate booklight to see the words of my ebook. I’m a busy working mom with two kids under 4 years old though, so my reading time and situations are likely different from yours — hopefully you have more time for reading!

I’m actually considering a third ereader — because I already have Amazon Prime, I could get a Kindle to take advantage of Amazon’s new Kindle Owner’s Lending Library — but I’m trying to decide between the Kindle, Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire based on what else I might want to use it for. All of my decisions will be based on how I hope to use the device, along with reviews of the hardware, and also the availability of books to buy, borrow or purchase for the ereader. I also read a classic book every month for my book group, and I can frequently get those older public domain titles for free on any ereader I have handy!


Reading the Reviews

When you are ready to learn more about ereaders, several tech websites provide overviews, comparisons and reviews of the major ereader options this season. I liked  Cnet’s Holiday Gift Guide for a straightforward comparison of some of the major products. Just remember that laptops and smartphones can also be used to read ebooks on the go. A recent commentary in USAToday also compares some of the issues you should think about when choosing a device. And searching the name of the device you are planning to purchase in an aggregate news site like Google News is a good last-minute check for any issues which are arising as sales of new devices increase – like this recent article on preschoolers shopping on the Amazon Fire.

Seeing and holding the ereaders can also help you make a decision based on your own preferences — the local stores that sell ereaders have display models of the devices, and the library has an ereader display near the Reference Desk that includes older versions of the nook, kindle, nook color, ipad, sony reader, kobo and more for customers to use to help them compare and explore (and to help librarians teach people about ereaders!)

You can find more hands-on reviews of current ereaders and tablets on these technology-focused sites:

But seriously, which one should I buy?

To get you an excellent answer, I asked the same person I always ask when making a technology purchase: my spouse. He said, “The big decision a person has to make is whether they want a dedicated eink reader or if they want a tablet. Once you cross the line into tablet, the price and the additional features become the two factors you have to balance for your budget and your interests.” When I pushed him for specifics, he recommended you consider some of these factors:

  • Operating system: iOS, Android, Windows, etc. Do you have a vested interest in a particular operating system?
  • Apps: Apple’s iOS and the App Store, Android OS and Android Market, etc.
  • Internet: can you get access through Wi-fi hotspots or will you want to buy a data plan
  • Screen size: reading on a 3.5″ smartphone, a 7″ ereader or a 10″ tablet
  • Portability: Will it fit in your pocket, your handbag or your briefcase?
  • eBook Content: Will you buy, borrow, or read for free?
  • Supporting technology: Will your ereader require a home computer to transfer ebooks from the library ebook service?

Many tech sites offer lists of tips to help you choose what kind of ereader would meet your needs. And whether the device will be compatible with the ebooks that are available for checkout from the library is just one component of the decision.

The role of librarians has always been to connect customers to what they want and help them use and enjoy it — whether it is print books, audiobooks, computers, or downloading ebooks– and that has never seemed more true that now, when digital access has opened up so many possibilties for reading!

Lissa Staley

Lissa Staley helps people use the library. She is a Book Evangelist, Health Information Librarian, Trivia Emcee, Classics Made Modern book group leader, NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison, Community Novel Project leader, HUSH podcaster, and frequent library customer. She reads a new book every few days, but recently enjoyed Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley.

4 thoughts on “When ebooks & ereaders are on your holiday shopping list…

  1. Nice post. I recently struggled with choosing between a Kindle and a Kindle Fire – I went with the Fire because I also want to listen to internet radio and a few other options. The fact that the library has some Kindle books available helped pushed me into the e-reader.

  2. Lissa – great post! Sorry I didn’t have a chance to read it before today, but it should help shoppers who want to “give the gift of reading” techie-style.

  3. After anguishing over which ereader to buy I finally went for the Kindle only to find the books I really want are only available on the Kobo store. When I downloaded a Kobo book I then could not convert as it is protected by DCM. This should be a consideration when purchasing, I wish someone had told me about the DCM protection.

  4. I recently researched which ereader works best for inernational travel. My pick is the kindle keyboard with 3g. I loved that I could hook onto the nearest cell network and not only get books but also check email and facebook. The web brower has limited functionality, but there is no monthly subcription fee or roaming charges.

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