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


The ereader and etext trial undertaken by the Wesley College Library team demonstrated that the younger readers in the trial were less satisfied with the etext and ereader combination than the adult readers. Adult readers spent more time reading in the trial, and were more committed to continue with an ereader. Younger readers were more critical consumers of the technology, more inclined to experiment with them and also found less reason to read an ereader when a hardcopy was available. This tendency became less pronounced when it came to older students, who saw benefits in using an ereader/etext combination in preference to using hard copy text books.

The implementation of etexts combined with ereaders in a conventional library acquisition and cataloguing system is practically unworkable, mainly due to the amount of digital rights management embedded not only in the acquisition and title transfer process, but also in the restrictions placed by suppliers on the readers themselves and the number of devices that can be used to transfer titles to. It must be conceded that ereaders are most effective when they are personal devices which are personalised by their user. Article collections and ebook titles cannot be transferred from one ereader to another, and over time an ereader that belongs to a person becomes as idiosyncratic of the user's interests as does their bookshelf at home, or the bookshelf and file in the office.
More advantageous for school libraries and academic libraries are the options of subscribing to etext collections and etext libraries, such as can be done with Warners and EBL for instance. These options can be offered in existing technical systems in schools, or could become a reality for many schools via consortia purchase. Equally, involvement by state education departments in developing etext access for text book delivery may be advantageous from many perspectives, particularly from a sustainability viewpoint and to reduce the weight of school bags for students travelling to and from school.
The commercial online systems for purchasing etexts in general and ebooks specifically, do not envisage a mediator. The e-commerce model so effective for eBay and iTunes now is a reality for book consumers. Libraries are not considered partners in these environments.
Global copyright restrictions in Australia hamper the libraries' mission to provide a wide range of titles to their patrons, as relatively speaking only a small number of titles are made available to our  region, when many are available elsewhere in the world. Finally, the publishing industry in Australia appeared to be unprepared by the etext and ereader phenomenon that has begun to emerge in Europe and the United States.
Upon reflection, the current slow progress by publishers in this area could be the window of opportunity for libraries in Australia. At a time when the publishing industry needs to determine its future with digital media and text, it could be open to considering ways in which libraries could be play an enhanced mediation role by engaging in the dissemination of books for publishers, actively delivering to their book-reading communities with a new ways of lending to them, and developing a hire model with publishers.
It is interesting to speculate how a technical model such as the and Amigo online reader combination could be developed for libraries across the nation. It could conceivably provide the content within global copyright restrictions, and managed DRM, and also be able to negotiate with accurate data a book hire or book purchase with the suppliers. The prospect may be of interest to publishers and suppliers if a model could extend for libraries nationally, and library budgets were directed towards a significant etext collection holding that also delivered the access. For instance, libraries could avidly promote for free the first chapter of a book for publishers. As there continues to be a demand for the hard copy, it is free marketing and advertising for the publisher. Library users also purchase books, as the results of our trial shows in relation to adult readers who enjoy the souveniring and other aspects of book ownership. For those readers who wish an etext ‘borrowed’ from the library, the entire text could be delivered to patrons on request, on a time limit, at a negotiated price with the supplier.  The benefits to libraries could be extensive, particularly with the delivery of a popular title to multiple readers. Equally, libraries could provide access to a greater numbers of specialised titles without having to bear the cost of housing items that are significant and valuable, but will not circulate sufficiently to justify their purchase and ongoing maintenance in the collection.
Once such online technical infrastructures are put in place, libraries could conceive inviting other producers of content to share content for free if they wish to put work in a public domain along the other paid for materials. Such material could be from indigenous authors, new young talent, and other material not deemed commercial by publishers, but would enable diversity of content and the publishing of voices, languages, culturally diverse narratives or studies. It would take the library profession from a collection focus to a dissemination model, and more. 

Final word – school libraries

As specialist libraries, school libraries may have to act sooner than later to influence the way that etexts are going to be delivered in the education sector, when the critical mass of publishers in Australia finds a way of delivering them. State and national collaboration on etext consortia purchase needs to be put high on the agenda by library associations. Although school libraries, by collection and staffing, are the smallest libraries of all in Australia, they surely are the most numerous. Their patrons are the youngest in the country and need a voice to speak for them. What is at stake is the need to provide equity – to provide for all students access to the very best of ebooks, etexts and ecollections. In order to do this, technical systems, DRM, delivery and access must be planned and regulated. To not do so will result in an opportunity lost to take advantage of a wonderful shift in formats that could, at its best, deliver quality to all students across Australia. It could also be an opportunity lost to future readers, who may, as our trial appears to indicate, be on the way to becoming different readers altogether.  

Reference List

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I wish to acknowledge the following people who contributed to the research trial
Cameron McIntosh, Librarian
Meg Moores, Librarian
Margaret Pajak, E-Journals and Serials Librarian
Bart Rutherford, Online Services Librarian
Marie Turnbull, Technical Services Librarian
The project was made possible with the encouragement and generous support of
Dr Helen Drennen, College Principal, Wesley College
Colin Dobson, Director of Curriculum, Wesley College 2005-2009
Isaac Quist, Director of Curriculum, Wesley College 2009
James Taafe, College Head of Finance, Wesley College
Stuart Davis, Campus Head, St Kilda Road Campus 2007-2009
Richard Siegersma, Executive Director, DA Direct, Melbourne
and we thank the staff and students for collaboration and their participation in the ereader and etext trial.
Wilma Kurvink is College Head of Library and Information Services at Wesley College.