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Good Design: Pleasing to the Eyes “and” Functional

*** This post has been originally published in ACRL TechConnect on Mar. 13, 2013. ***

Many librarians work with technology even if their job titles are not directly related to technology. Design is somewhat similar to technology in that aspect. The primary function of a librarian is to serve the needs of library patrons, and we often do this by creating instructional or promotional materials such as a handout and a poster. Sometimes this design work goes to librarians in public services such as circulation or reference. Other times it is assigned to librarians who work with technology because it involves some design software.

The problem is that knowing how to use a piece of design software does not entail the ability to create a great work of design. One may be a whiz at Photoshop but can still produce an ugly piece of design. Most of us, librarians, are quite unfamiliar with the concept of design. ACRL TechConnect covered the topic design previously in Design 101 – Part 1 and Design 101 – Part 2. So be sure to check them out. In this post, I will share my experience of creating a poster for my library in the context of libraries and design.

1. Background

My workplace recently launched the new Kindle e-book leader lending program sponsored by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine/Southeast Atlantic Region Express Mobile Technology Project. This project is to be completed in a few months, and we have successfully rolled out 10 Kindles with 30 medical e-book titles for circulation early this year. One of the tasks left for me to do as the project manager is to create a poster to further promote this e-book reader program. No matter how great the Kindle e-book lending program is, if patrons don’t know about it, it won’t get much use. A good poster can attract a lot of attention from library patrons. I can just put a small sign with “Kindles available!” written on it somewhere in the library. But the impact would be quite different.

2. Trying to design a poster

When I planned the grant budget, I included an budget item for large posters. But the item only covers the printing costs, not the design costs. So I started designing a poster myself. Here are a few of my first attempts. Even to my untrained eyes, these look unprofessional and amateurish, however. The first one looked more like a handout than a poster. So I decided to make the background black. That makes the QR code and the library logo invisible however. To fix this, I added a white background behind them. Slightly better maybe? Not really.


My first try doesn’t look so good!


My second attempt is only marginally better!












One thing I know about design is that an image can save or kill your work. A stunning image alone can make a piece of design awesome. So I did some Google search and found out this nice image of Kindle. Now it looks like that I need to flip the poster to make it wide.


The power of a nice image! Too bad it is copyrighted…

But there is a catch. The image I found is copyrighted. This was just an example to show how much power a nice image or photograph can have to the overall quality of a work of design. I also looked for Kindle images/photographs in Flick Creative Commons but failed to locate one that allows making derivatives. This is a very common problem for libraries, which tend to have little access to quality images/photographs. If you are lucky you may find a good image from Pixabay which offer very nice photographs and images that are in public domain.


Changed the poster setup to to make it wide.

3. What went wrong

You probably already have some ideas about what went wrong with my failed attempts so far. The font doesn’t look right. The poster looks more like a handout. The image looks amateurish in the first two examples. But the whole thing is functional for sure, some may say. It does the job of conveying the message that the library now has Kindle E-book readers to offer. Others may object. No, not really, the wording is vague, far from clear. You can go on forever. A lot of times, these issues are solved by adding more words, more instructions, and more links, which can be also problematic.

But one thing is clear. These are not pretty. And what that means is that if I print this and hang up on the wall around the library, our new Kindle e-book lending program would fail to convey certain sentiments that I had in mind to our library patrons. I want the poster to present this program as a new and exciting new service. I would like the patron to see the poster and get interested, curious, and feel that the library is trying something innovative. Conveying those sentiments and creating a certain impression about the library ‘is’ the function of the poster as much as informing library patrons about the existence of the new Kindle e-book reader lending program. Now the posters above won’t do a good job at performing that function. So in those aspects, they are not really functional. Sometimes beauty is a necessity. For promotional materials, which libraries make a lot but tend to neglect the design aspect of them, ‘pleasing to the eyes’ is part of their essential function.

4. Fixing it

What I should have done is to search for examples first that advertise a similar program at other libraries. I was very lucky in this case. In the search results, I ran into this quite nice circulation desk signage created by Saint Mary’s College of Maryland Library. This was made as a circulation desk sign, but it gave me an inspiration that I can use for my poster.

An example can give you much needed inspiration!

Once you have some examples and inspiration, creating your own becomes much easier. Here, I pretty much followed the same color scheme and the layout from the one above. I changed the font and the wording and replaced the kindle image with a different one, which is close to what my library circulates. The image is from Amazon itself, and Amazon will not object people using their own product image to promote the product itself. So the copyright front is clear. You can see my final poster below. If I did not run into this example, however, I would have probably searched for Kindle advertisements, posters, and similar items for other e-book readers for inspiration.

One thing to remember is the purpose of the design. In my case, the poster is planned to be printed on a large glossy paper (36′ x 24′). So I had to make sure that the image will appear clear and crisp and not blurry when printed on the large-size paper. If your design is going to be used only online or printed on a small-size item, this is less of an issue.

Final result!

5. Good design isn’t just about being pretty

Hopefully, this example shows why good design is not just a matter of being pretty. Many of us have an attitude that being pretty is the last thing to be considered. This is not always false. When it is difficult enough to make things work as intended, making them pretty can seem like a luxury. But for promoting library services and programs at least, just conveying information is not sufficient. Winning the heart of library patrons is not just about letting people know what the library does but also about how the library does things. For this reason, the way in which the library lets people know about its services and programs also matters. Making things beautiful is one way to improve on this “how” aspect as far as promotional materials are concerned. Making individual interactions personally pleasant and the transactions on the library website user-friendly would be another way to achieve the same goal. Design is a broad concept that can be applied not only to visual work but also to a thought process, a tool, a service, etc., and it can be combined with other concept such as usability.


While I was doing this, I also discovered a great resource, Librarian Design Share. This is a great place to look for an inspiration or to submit your own work, so that it can inspire other librarians. Here are a few more resources that may be useful to those who work at a library and want to learn a bit more about visual design. Please share your experience and useful resources for the library design work in the comments!


A bad business model or a savvy market strategy? Thinking like a vendor

I want to talk about an e-book platform called Inkling whose web version is not cross-browser compatible. But what I am really interested to talk about is neither an ebook platform nor its cross-browser support. I am interested in thinking about the way we assess and evaluate resource products from vendors and their market strategies as librarians. I am using Inkling just as an example to touch on this topic.

Inkling is a company that makes an interactive textbook. It works with publishers to get a contract for certain titles of theirs, so that those titles can be made to e-books that run on and are sold at the Inkling platform. Inkling originally started as an e-book platform app on the iOS device such as an iPad and iPhone. The Inkling platform is quite nice. Adding annotation is easy and the page numbers of a print book is clearly marked on the side of its e-book version. Inkling e-textbooks in medicine offer interactive quizzes integrated into a human anatomy diagram and include related audio and video files that can be played right there inside the app, thereby broadening the utility of a textbook to students. The Inkling e-book platform also provides various sharing features that can be handy for students and teachers.

Recently, Inkling released a Web version. My library, which tested its app version earlier, was interested in purchasing some of the titles that were available at the Inkling Store for library patrons. Not only did we like the Inkling platform as a reading platform but we also found out that those titles were not available as e-books from any other vendors. My library wanted to provide more medical titles as e-books so that our students and faculty can access them with convenience. But while testing their Web version, we found a few problematic things for library patrons. (1) First, the Web version of Inkling doesn’t allow library patrons to use their iPad/iPhone version unlike products such as Naxos Music Library. So the convenience of getting the resource on a personal device was taken away in the Web version. (2) Second, Inkling requires each library patron to create a separate Inkling account in order to access the Web version of Inkling through the institutional subscription. The double authorization required – one for the university log-in and the other for the inkling log-in – was cumbersome and annoying. The majority of library users do not want to create an additional account for each database or resource that they use through the library subscription.

But the most problematic was (3) the fact that Inkling’s Web version only runs on Safari and Chrome.  No Firefox, no IE. This was a deal-breaker for us because the number one browser that is used to access our library’s website is IE and the second is Firefox according to the Google Analytics statistics. Furthermore, the most important patron group that my library serves, the medical students and faculty at our school, mostly work on the student laptops and office PCs that the school IT department configures and issues, and those student laptops and computers only come with IE and Firefox. Students and faculty have to request IT if they want to install any new software on these standard laptops and PCs. For this reason, when the limited browser support of the Inkling Web was known, librarians at my library unanimously agreed to wait for Inkling to add the support for other web browsers. We also did a demo of the Web version to a group of faculty with a few students included but the responses were lukewarm. So waiting was agreed to be the best option at this point.

At the same time, it was puzzling why Inkling released a Web product that only supports Safari and Chrome. We were told that Inkling e-books use HTML5 and CSS3 extensively and that not all the HTML5 and CSS3 features that Inkling uses are supported in IE and Firefox.  Okay, but if the Web version is to target institutional subscriptions rather than individual consumers – whom their iPhone/iPad version targets, then why the limited cross-browser functionality? In my opinion, no libraries were going to purchase ebooks that are going to run on web-browsers that half of their library patrons or more do not already have on their computers. Perhaps did Inkling release its Web version in haste and are planning to add cross-browser support as soon as possible? However, when my library inquired about Inkling’s future plan of cross-browser support, we were told that they were planning to add that feature in the future but without any timeline for it. Then, the cross-browser support didn’t seem like a high-priority for them. So if this is the case, what is going on?


As long as I was thinking as a librarian, I could only think that this was simply a bad business model. But let’s think about from Inkling’s perspective.  Is there a possibility that this is not a bad business model but an actually savvy business strategy? I do not doubt that Inkling’s development team can make their platform work with Firefox and IE. From the product they built, Inkling seems to have a capable dev team. I wonder if the company is debating internally whether adding the cross-browser support to their e-book platform would be a worthwhile investment at this point.

(A) First of all, HTML5 is being fast accepted as the new web standard and the W3C has a working group to finalize the specification. So whatever feature Inkling needs and FireFox lacks may well be soon added. And hopefully IE will follow the suit. If the browser support for these features are coming, Inkling may well do better by simply waiting a bit.

(B) The company may be uncertain about how much revenue will be generated from the institutional subscriptions. If the main attraction of their product lies in its availability on iPhone and iPad, then since this feature is not allowed for the users of Inkling’s Web version through the institutional subscription, individual consumers may well remain as their main target customer group. And for that matter, the release of the Web version itself doesn’t necessarily mean that the company is targeting institutional subscriptions as the main customers. The Web version might be a nice companion for the individual users who nevertheless purchase Inkling books mostly to use them on the iOS platform.

(c) But most importantly, Inkling’s real target could be mobile devices, not desktops. Now think about mobile devices – many different kinds of smartphones and tablets. If they are iOS devices, they will have Safari web browser. If not, they are likely to be Android devices. What browser do Android devices have? Chrome. So perhaps what the real market strategy of Inkling is going for the mobile market, not the desktop market. Maybe this is what they are really after.  Now the choice of Sarafi and Chrome seems to make much more sense, doesn’t it? And I have to say that focusing on the mobile is only smart considering that the Mobile Internet is about to surpass the Desktop Internet.  Of course, I have no way of knowing if any of these guesses are true. I am simply testing hypotheses.

So what was the lesson I learned? It was something obvious but nevertheless I have been overlooking for a while. As librarians, we are used to evaluate a resource product based upon how user-friendly it is for library patrons to use and how easy it is to implement in the common library setting (such as IP authentication by EZproxy and institutional log-in). However, these two factors are not necessarily the greatest concern for the vendors. That doesn’t mean that their business model is bad. They just happen to have a different business model that is not quite library-friendly. But vendors don’t exist to be library-friendly as much as libraries exist to purchase vendor products.  And sometimes, thinking about their concerns rather than ours can give us librarians a clue of where the vendors are going with their products and what their responses to our requests are likely to be, which we need to be aware of and to understand as much as we can. It is a good mental exercise for librarians.



About the Merit of an e-Reader as a Single-Purpose Device

Despite the popularity of an e-book reader, I was never really tempted to purchase a Nook or a Kindle.  I figured since I have an iPad, it would be completely pointless to own and use a e-book reader, which I understood mostly as a single-purpose device. (But to confess, I didn’t use my iPad much for reading… )

This conviction, however, was completely swept away since I had taken out a library Kindle a few days ago. I never thought that someone like me, who is a firm believer in the superiority of a multi-purpose device (like a smartphone) to a single-purpose device, would become a fan of a single-purpose e-reader.

Kindle I took out from the library

The university library (which is separate from the library where I work which belongs to the same university but to its medical school) has recently started lending Kindle devices loaded with a number of e-books.  As soon as I heard the news, I ran down to the circulation desk to check it out for curiosity.  Sure, I had seen an e-book reader before. But there is a world of difference between just looking at a device and tinkering with it for a few minutes and actually using it for oneself for days and weeks.  So, I was eager to test it out myself.

I decided to read the e-book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I have been meaning to read for a while but never found time to. To my surprise, I found myself enjoying the library e-reader way more than I expected.

I loved the much lighter weight and the much less eye-straining screen of a Kindle (compared to my first-generation iPad).  But what I loved most about this e-reader was actually its limitation. The fact that I can do nothing but reading.

The greatest problem I had with an iPad ‘as an e-reader’ was that aside from its weight and the eye-straining screen, I could not really concentrate on reading for a long time. I don’t know if this is a non-issue for others with stronger willpower. But for me, this was certainly a big problem. While reading, I would get easily distracted into web surfing, checking e-mails, and reading tweets and Facebook updates.  On the other hand, on this single-purpose device, it was easy to continue reading for a much longer time. Sometimes, I would have an urge to go online and do something else. But often I would just ignore the urge as I simply didn’t feel like moving.

Of course, I am not sure if this virtue of a single-purpose device would apply beyond reading, and for that matter, beyond leisure reading.  If I were reading for research, I would prefer more robust annotation options as well as easy importing and exporting of documents, which would be much easier on a multi-purpose device.  I may well also prefer to be able to easily surf the Internet to search and download whatever document I find useful and start reading it right then and there.

Nevertheless, I found it interesting to think about the merit of a single-purpose device in the times in which multi-purpose devices are more and more prevalent.  Maybe we will always have a multi-purpose device and a single-purpose device no matter how advanced technology becomes just like a Swiss Army Knife and a normal knife.  Or would more and more devices converge into a few?

*** An additional bonus of a library Kindle is that it comes with more than one book.  The borrowing period for this Kindle is two weeks, but I am done with the book already.  So after browsing +90 library books that I did not know about, I decided on reading another book.  As a librarian, I like the fact that a library e-reader preloaded with multiple library books offer an opportunity for a user to discover more than the one title s/he selected.  But also as a librarian, I disliked the fact that the copies of +90 e-books are sitting idly in the device while a user is only using one title.  Would there be a possible compromise between these two options? 


After Two days with an iPad

So finally it came. The long-awaited iPad. I got this as a birthday present from my husband.  So  I can’t really say that I was committed to purchase this gadget myself.  I doubt if I would have spent that much $$$ although the model I got is the lowest spec (16GB wi-fi access only).  But of course, my wiser half was convinced rightly that I would want one.  It arrived yesterday morning with a honk from a UPS truck.  I wonder how many same iPad packages the UPS driver delivered that day, but I am pretty sure he had a good idea about what was going on.

So to cut to the chase, this is how it looks. My iPad.

I think I am relatively happy with it although I am not sure how successful it would be as a eBook reader and a PDF reading device, which are the features that I was most looking forward to test.  Actually, now that I have spent two days with it, I think I will use the iPad more for watching TV shows/movies (Surprise I rarely watch videos on the computer!) and surfing online. I am not sure if I will use the iPad for any type of serious work other than PDF reading.  But the App Store is showing all three productivity apps for the iPad with very high ratings.  So I am holding my judgment on this.

The iPad is not as light as I would like, but about half the weight of my small netbook, which can make a big difference when you are traveling.  It seems to be pretty sturdy but the screen is very glossy and gets a lot of glare used outdoors or under direct lighting.  It is quite fast and the battery seems to last long enough to last the working hours from 8/9 to 5 without recharging. The screen keyboard is usable when the iPad is in a horizontal position but is too sensitive. Lots of typos ensued when I tried to type. The keyboard inputs letters every time the fingers brush on it.  Personally, I am very much bummed about the fact that iPad doesn’t support as many international keyboards as the iPhone does. What this means to me is that I can’t write emails and create documents in Korean.  Although this may be a feature that is not widely used, the ease of switching keyboards for different languages was one of the features that distinguished Macs from PCs.

I don’t think the iPad will replace my smartphone.  Checking emails, Twitter, my calendar, to-do-list, making short notes, taking photos and videos will still be the tasks I perform mostly on my smartphone when I am not using an iPad already for something else.  But then there is a chance that I may use the iPad a lot.  Iin that case, I will perform these tasks on the iPad rather than on my smartphone.  It is to be seen later.

So the question boils down to this: would it be a good reading device?  Depending on that, I may or may not carry my iPad around.

First Impression

Yes, you can see your finger prints all over when the light hits the screen. I took it out to the outside. Under the daylight sun, I could see my face and background reflected as if it were a black mirror. The iPad in a box comes with a power code/plug, a tiny little instruction, and nothing else. Not even a cheap wiping cloth.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my iPad.  My plan was to think about it once it arrives.  Well, I had a very difficult time to get it to work and had to spent hours grumbling.  As soon as I unboxed the shiny new iPad, of course I plugged right into the power outlet thinking it will work automatically. It didn’t. Instead, it showed the sign that I have to hook it up to iTunes first. The instruction also said that I should first download the latest version of iTunes. This took a very long time. Finally, I was done, I hooked up my iPad.  I only got an error message saying an iPad requires Mac OS leopard or higher.  I got only Tiger on my Mac desktop and haven’t updated it.  Wouldn’t it have been so nice if Apple put that on the instruction sheet? So I took out my Mac laptop (I know I just have so many computers), which has Leopard, downloaded iTunes again and hooked it up. It worked.

But if the iPad is going to work for grandmas and grandpas, they will definitely need some help from their granddaughters and grandsons.

IPad as a Movie player: Thumbs Up

It is quite accurate to think that an iPad is a big iPhone with limited functionalities but with a bigger screen.  Initially my response to an iPad was lukewarm.  It didn’t seem to do anything special that I couldn’t do with my iPhone and a netbook.  Well, that was my thought until I downloaded the ABC player app and watched a few episodes of FlashForward and Modern Family.  IPad rocks as a video player.  The screen is awesome for playing a video and the lack of keyboard is a huge advantage in this type of use. I could watch a TV episode lying down on the couch holding it against a cushion. It gets a bit heavy on the wrist after a while, and you may want a holder.  But there is no sitting required to watch a video when you use an iPad.  This was something I didn’t think that I would use an iPad for.  I was impressed how well it works as a video player.  The Apple store is also selling a VGA cable to connect an iPad to a TV.  I am not sure if it can transfer the audio as well as the video.  But I think I may also try that in the future. Try the Netflix app and the ABC player app for this if you have an iPad already.

The only issue I found in video viewing was the shiny surface.  The touchscreen is the best if it is used indoors without direct lighting that will cause annoying glare.

For videos that are online, however, the iPad is unable to play any Flash files although it plays MPEG4 files well.

IPad as an eBook Reader: Better but…

I wasn’t terribly impressed by iBooks, which comes with one free book, Winnie the Pooh. (There are more you can download.)   There was the obvious advantage of having a larger screen and being a tablet rather than a computer with a keyboard.  But I could not zoom in and out freely in iBooks as I did using Safari.  IBooks only offer two font sizes.  Also, as a reading screen, an iPad is no different from a computer screen except that its surface gets a lot of glare which would make lunchtime reading outdoors challenging.  The iPad screen doesn’t use the e-Ink technology, as many noted, and so, is hard on the eyes for prolonged reading.  The iPad also seems to lack the accessibility feature of reading out the content of an ebook in iBooks or of a web page in Safari like the iPhone 3GS (although I am not 100% sure). The iPad also is equipped with much-touted iPhone OS’ accessibility features that allow zooming in and out of the screen itself rather than the fonts and make the content on the web read aloud.  In order to use this features, one has to go to the Accessibility tab on the Settings.  Make sure to double-tap with three fingers when you want to return to the normal screen after you turn on the zoom function.

IBooks also doesn’t allow highlighting and notes-adding feature that the Kindle iPad app offers.  And finding a free eBook for iBooks is not as intuitive as it could be. (One needs to go to the App Store first. )  I liked the dictionary function of iBooks a lot but was disappointed that there was no way to use the dictionary as a stand-alone app to look up whatever word I would like.  I thought this was very odd.  Overall, I was more impressed with the Classics app on the iPhone, which is pretty much identical with iBook except that iBooks lacks the page-turning sound (again, such a shame! the sound makes a big difference).

The iPad hasn’t yet changed my preference for reading a book in paper whenever possible.  I think eBook readers have still a long way to go to become even a remote competitor with books in paper.

IPad as a PDF reader: Promising but Awaiting Better Apps…

Reading PDF files is one of the big reasons that made me to get an iPad.  But in order to do that, you need to get an app.  The iPad allows you to read PDF files online but not to download them on the iPad, which seems to me to be ridiculous.  I purchased GoodReader which allows syncing with Dropbox, Google Docs,, etc.  It also allows you to directly search and download PDFs onto iPad from the web.

But I realized that in order for me to save trees, I need to be able to annotate on the PDF files that I read.  So I got iAnnotate for that purpose.  Both apps work well, and iAnnotate also supports downloading the annotated pdf file back to the computer although I have not tried this yet.  The only issue with iAnnotate is that it doesn’t sync with Dropbox or Google Docs and you have to manually  upload documents to the iAnnotate application on your computer.  I am hoping that iAnnotate adds the sync feature with Dropbox in the future.

I haven’t read much yet on iAnnotate nor GoodReader. But so far it seems to be promising.  And if I can get most of my PDF readings done on the iPad rather than printing them out on the papers or reading in front of my computers, it would be a huge benefit for me.  Just to store and read PDF files, the Evernote app also does a great job. This app is free and allows voice recording as well as creating notes. (This is how I found out that the iPad comes with a mic but there was no Voice Memos app on the default screen.  I realized that in order to use the built-in mic, one needs to go to the Apple App store and download Voice Memos for iPad. This app is free. I think in the future, Apple may add more default apps to the iPad.)

IPad for Online Reading: Excellent

While the iPad is so-so as an ebook reader and it is yet to be seen if it will be good for PDF reading/annotating, it works quite well for online surfing and casual reading onthe web. The USA Today app almost makes you feel as if you were reading a newspaper in paper again.  The BBC News app allows one to easily browse news and plays video in a news article.

IPad as a Gaming Device: Promising

I have only tried Scrabble on the iPad, but I think gaming on the iPad will be quite cool since it will provide a larger screen to fill with images and may well provide a more intuitive control for games. I think it would be addictive if a good role-playing game comes out for the iPad but any simple games will be fun as well.


I think that overall the iPad is an interesting device and that the large part of its success will depend on the apps that can take advantage of the unique features of this device.  I am disappointed, however, to find that Apple is offering a lesser version of the iPhone OS for the iPad with the limited number of international keyboards.

As also noted by many, the way Apple designed the iPad to run the silos of applications that do not talk to each other becomes glaringly annoying as one needs to save multiple copies of one and the same file to use it for different applications.  One copy for iAnnotate. Another copy of the same file for GoodReader. You get the idea of how inefficient and stupid this is.  The iPad also makes it a huge pain to import and export any files.  Why no way to exchange files directly between at least the iPad and the iPhone?

I am not going to even bother with commenting on the lack of built-in camera, which is obviously an intentional omission by Apple. (See  WePad for example, which runs Flash, comes with USB ports, a built-in web cam, an inbuilt card reader and expandable memory.)

Lastly, it will be interesting to see how publishers and news media will provide content to the iPad users. Already the TIME magazine packaged their weekly magazine as an individual app and priced it for $4.99 in the App Store.  This caused a lot of complaints from users who didn’t realize that they were purchasing only one weekly magazine.  The Wall Street Journal app also requires its users to create an account even for free content, which I found to be annoying and disturbing.

Does Your Library Have a Vision on e-Books?

I have to say I have a love-hate relationship with e-books. I love the idea of e-books. No matter where I am, I can instantly access it and start reading it on an electronic device. That’s great. As an expatriate, I dream about the day in which all the books I want to read written and published in Korean become available in an electronic format, so that the exorbitant international shipping charge (for heavy heavy books) can be instead used for more books I want to read. I love to underline, highlight and save the passage in an e-book for future references as a text file, so that I don’t need to retype it again later. I want to carry multiple e-books in my smart phone, so that my bag won’t drag me down stuffed with multiple paperbacks.

But how so much I hate e-books! Every time I search for certain books on my library’s online catalog and it turned out that the book is available as an e-book, I grind my teeth. I don’t want to read any books in front of my computer. It simply isn’t my favorite manner of reading books.  And how so much I hate that restriction that I can only print one page at a time from an e-book! You gotta be kidding me to think that I would need one page of a book for my reference purposes whether I am accessing the book via a library or whether I bought it through Amazon or any other online bookstores. Besides,  I want to hold a book in my hands and I want to read it in my comfortable reading chair, not in front of my computer straining my eyes and back. I desperately want a book in paper, particularly the ones that I am going to take some time to read it through. When a book that I look for is not available as an e-book at my library, I get relieved because it means that I can request the book via Interlibrary loan. And I count days until the book arrives! How ironic.

So I am desperate for the growth and maturation of the e-book market. It is just that the vendors are not getting it. That is, what they need to do to make their market to expand. Here are my suggestions.

  • Go for textbook market particularly in science. They are expensive and heavy. And students need them for classes. They will “buy” them.
  • Make e-books “significantly cheaper” than print ones. Unless it is cheaper by 50 % or more, people won’t go for e-books. I would personally pay 30 %. The utility of e-books is much less than that of print books. This applies to particularly for non-textbooks such as fiction, bestsellers, etc.
  • “Standardize” the e-book reader software. Agree on one software that can be used for all types of devices including computer, smart phone, PDA etc. regardless of where they are purchased.
  • “Don’t go crazy on DRM” to make e-book buyers keep entering password every time people open the e-books they already bought. Make it easy for the owner of the e-book to use it.
  • Let e-book owners “own” the book. Don’t make them feel that they pay for ownership but are treated as if they were actually only getting a license for the ebooks they pay for. That’s just unfair.

But I now realize that for e-books to become popular, we also need a right device for them. It may be something like Kindle. But it probably should be better than that. If it can be something like a bendable  touch-screen e-paper with memory and internet connection, that would work great because right now what bothers potential ebook consumers most seems to be the fact that they cannot read e-books like normal paper books. They need a proper device for e-books. But devices currently available for e-books are hardly ideal for comfortable reading.

Phillipse e-paper technology from YouTube

While I was reading a news article about the University Librarian of University of Michigan, Paul Courant, I came to wonder if libraries should have a vision about e-books.

Let’s see what Paul Courant thinks about books at future libraries. (Source:,1)

Despite the advantages of having tangible books on hand, Courant said the University Library’s books will be uselessly sitting on shelves while students browse them on their laptops.“This is blasphemous,” he said. “But it’s true. We don’t need to have 3 million books in the middle of campus.” Courant said he predicts the University Library will use converted files to make materials even more digitally accessible in the future.  “In a few years, most of what I expect will be in the library (will be) in a form where you’ll be able to load it into something that looks like a Kindle or a Sony Reader and read it very easily,” he said.  He added that the stacks will eventually disappear. With this shift, Courant said the role of universities and libraries will become increasingly important as society moves into the “information age,” where loads of information are available at people’s fingertips.  “The problem of converting information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom is every bit as important as it always was,” he said. “The University is the place that’s going to figure out how to do that, and within it, the library is going to be the place in the University that figures that out.”

Well, if the stacks disappear, I don’t think that it will be any time soon because the current technology for ebook devices are still quite below users’ expectations.

But my question is whether this is something libraries should think about and include in their vision. How do libraries plan to deliver information and knowledge in the future? Is it going to be an espresso book machine that can print out and bind whatever old book that a user happens to need to use? Or is it going to be a computer file that can be downloaded immediately to whatever device a user has in their hands? Or maybe both? It is not a matter of whether it is possible now or not. It is a matter of planning for unpredictable future and doing something about it to make the best vision to come true by conscious efforts. That is something that online bookstores or e-book publishers may not be interested in but something that libraries can play a significant role.

Librarians are mediators between knowledge and people.  Paul Courant says: The problem of converting information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom is every bit as important as it always was. I see a great role that libraries can play in solving this problem. We are digitizing a lot of information and knowledge. Now how do we want to deliver it to users? Until the mode of access to digitized information and the manner of utilizing it become almost effortless, digitized information will be less than optimal in being absorbed by people to become their knowledge and wisdom.