The usefulness of an e-reader as a portable reader and connected device Print E-mail
By Wilma Kurvink   

Summary

This project explored the potential of etexts and ereaders as a viable technology for reducing printed materials and waste, and maintaining the linear text as a key modality in an educational setting. The project consisted of three strands of inquiry:
  1. A comparative study of older and younger readers, examining the affective domains, and the associated experiences of reading in a new device.
  2. The testing of models of delivery and acquisition of etexts to a device, examining the issue of digital rights management (DRM) in the acquisition process. Exploration of the potential integration of etexts into the formal catalogue and purchasing systems in the college.
  3. An investigation of how the ereader and etext adoption would influence the publishers and distributers, inquiring into whether publishers and distributors would to adopt models that make purchasing and management practical for the school sector. 
The research outcomes show that older readers were significantly more engaged with and accepting of the ereader device than younger readers. The research pointed to older readers being more established readers who viewed the etext and ereader combination as providing an extension of their reading. Although all younger readers were experienced readers, they related less well to the device overall, and were less inclined to continue to read with it. The research highlighted significant generational difference in the trial groups – both in relation to reading itself and how technology may impact or change it.
 
The trials revealed significant difficulty for the school in the purchase of any etext to be transferred to a device. Major issues were identified in the current deployment of DRM as it is embedded in many of the transactions related to purchase. In addition limited access to titles both locally and globally are affected by restrictive practices in copy right and digital rights management.
 
The investigation demonstrated that the publishers and distributors had not considered the library sector as a significant player in the etext expansion, and the school sector as even less so. The research also highlighted a lack of planning across the publishing sector to guarantee a technical delivery of etext that was seamless across sectors and industry instead opting for multiple formats and delivery in a competitive environment. 

Introduction

At the time of writing the Apple iPad was to be launched, promising a step closer to a seamless integration of etexts into a device. By the time this article is published many readers will have seen, or purchased the iPad and some of the information in this article will be outdated, and superseded. This serves to highlight how rapidly the publishing industry is changing as texts are changing into digital formats. Now it is possible to incorporate non-text materials into linear text, which challenges traditional notions of material descriptions in library catalogues.
 

Now it is possible to incorporate non text materials into linear text, which challenges traditional notions of material descriptions in library catalogues.

While comparisons with the iPad and its promise of multiple formats, and applications in a single tablet device are tempting, it exceeds the scope of the research. Our trial was conducted on ereaders that use eink technology, and the various operating systems they are coupled to. iPads and related tablet technology, have a backlit screen and encompass many functions, including games, video and email. The eink technology, and readers we trialled are solely dedicated to the delivery and consumption of linear text.
 
When the trial started in April 2008, little could the team envisage the speed at which the technology would evolve, and continues to develop. The focus on devices and texts during the trial needed to be expanded. We felt we needed to respond to emerging issues concerning the tensions in the publishing industry. The issues appeared to be concerned with the potential new delivery systems. Media content changes including multiple formats, text graphics and video herald a departure from the conventional texts currently on offer. With wired devices, any combination of content delivery would become possible, and is now a reality in the Apple iPad, and its smaller predecessors the iTouch and the iPhone. 

Rationale for the trial

Continuity for reading and readers

Wesley College Library team had followed the emergence of etexts since 2006 and were anticipating the ereader device would give the etext a viable delivery. One of the drivers for the interest in the ereader was to investigate whether a device would refocus attention to the reading of narrative, non-fiction and recreational text.  Reading competes with the online digital environment where materials are multimodal, and where gaming and related activities variously engage children and young adults (Nippold, Duthie & Larsen, 2007). As exposure to, and engagement with, text remains critical for learners, the team considered that the ereader may be a bridge for technology – an on-demand system where a wider range of newly published materials were immediately available to the reader.
 

One of the drivers for the interest in the ereader was to investigate whether a device would refocus attention to the reading of narrative, non-fiction and recreational text.

Discussions in educational and LIS literature highlight a number of contextual issues. Etexts have been available for several years; however, computer screens are not the appropriate vehicle for close reading for long periods. Equally, the nature of the multitasking computer environment appears to create issues for sustained reading on a screen, identified by Ophir, Nass Wagner (2009), as the distraction phenomenon.
 
The reading of linear texts requires full integration of the mind’s capacities – prior learning, deep memory, conceptual, inferential and empathetic thinking is part of deep reading. (Hargraves & Senechal, 2000) While reading learners learn language in context; vocabulary is extended within a text; reading enables word association along with other deeper synthesis. Hence a driving curiosity for us was whether we had scope to sustain the reading connection with reading of etexts through the appropriate device – an ereader.
 
In testing the ereader/etext combination with older and younger readers, we were curious to explore whether there were different experiences and beliefs that underpinned the reading experience. We wanted to explore the affective elements of the ereader and whether the enjoyment of reading is transferred with the ereader into etext, and what the readers felt they lost or gained in the experience.  

Efficiency and service levels

Models of purchase, and digital rights management

Wesley College Library team has an efficient purchasing and delivery system, avoiding duplication, using preferred suppliers, and minimising manual processes. Our goal was to explore the delivery of etexts to the school community in equally cost effective ways, and with a view to overall service improvement. The team researched ways in which etexts could be used in a range of situations – document/text delivery, and textbook delivery. This was done by actively exploring the electronic purchase models, and delivery systems. 

Environmental considerations

One of the factors motivating the research in March 2007, was a belief that etexts, particularly etexts replacing text books, could reduce environmental effects of printing and paper use. It was felt that etexts could reduce redundancy issues with text book editions and the yearly obsolescence of textbooks. By being involved in etext trials we hoped to enable input at the early stages of the technology development and to influence outcomes for the benefit of students and staff at the college. When the Wesley College team began the 2008 ereader trial, the Iliad ereader was the first eink device in Australia. It could import PDF, was wifi enabled, and compatible with Mobipocket format delivery. 

Professional learning for the library team

Wesley College Library team has used action research in project implementation as part of the teams' approach to professional learning, such as the locally developed ‘Fanclubs’ reading program, and the ARC-funded Generating knowledge and avoiding plagiarism: Smart information use by secondary students 2006 – 2007 (Monash University, Research Services 2010). In this instance, an action learning approach was taken to explore new understandings of etext in the professional dialogue of the team. Specifically to:
  • Explore feelings and responses to the ereader and etext, as ‘content and container’, and how this is viewed by the librarians who traditionally have worked with hardcopy book materials
  • To share understandings of the technical workings of etext delivery,
  • To sample and gauge incidental and unanticipated responses to the trial 
  • To sample and gauge 'readiness' for new technology – how is this done?