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Making Library e-Books on the e-Book Reader Visible

***  This post has been originally posted to the ACRL TechConnect blog. ***

Browsing Experience in the Virtual vs. the Physical Space

However entangled our lives are in virtual spaces, it is in the physical space that we exist. For this reason, human attention is most easily directed at where visual and other sensory stimuli are. The resulting sensory feedback from interacting with the source of these stimuli further enriches the experience we have in the physical space. Libraries can take advantage of this fact in order to bring users’ fleeting attention to their often-invisible online collections. So far, our experience on the Internet, where we spend so much time, is still mostly limited to one or two sensory stimuli and provides little or no sensory feedback. A library’s online resources, often touted for its 24/7 accessibility anywhere, are no exception to this limitation.

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Think about new library books, for example. The print ones are usually prominently displayed at a library lobby area attracting library visitors to walk up and browse them in the physical space. By thumbing through a new book and moving back and forth from the table of contents to different chapters, we can quickly get a sense of what kind of a book it is and decide whether we want to further read the book or not. The tactile, olfactory, visual, and auditory sensory input that we get from thumbing through a newly printed book with fresh ink contributes to making this experience enjoyable and memorable at the same time.

Now compare this experience with reading a library Web page with the list of new online library books on a computer screen. Each book is reduced to a string of words and a hyperlink. It is hard to provide any engaging experience with a string of words and a hyperlink.

The Invisibility Problem of Library e-Books

Like many libraries, Florida International University (FIU) Library started an e-book reader lending program that circulates e-book readers. Each reader comes with more than one hundred titles that have been selected by subject librarians. But how can a library make these library e-books on e-book readers noticed by library users? How can a library help a user to quickly figure out what books are available on, say, a library Kindle device when those are specifically what the user is looking for?

Well, if a user runs a keyword search in the library’s online catalog, say, with ‘Kindle,’  s/he will find more than sufficient information since the library has already neatly cataloged all titles available on the Kindle device there. But many users may fail to try this or even be unaware of the new e-book reader lending program in the first place. The e-book reader lending program offers a great service to library users. However, the library e-books offered on the e-book readers can be largely invisible to users who tend to think that what they can see in a library is all a library has.

Giving Physical Presence to Library e-Books on e-Book Readers

The problem can be solved by giving some physical presence to e-books on the library’s e-book readers using a dummy bookmark on the stacks. This is particularly effective as it quickly captures users’ attention while they are already browsing the library stacks looking for something to read.

Users are familiar with a dummy book on physical shelves that marks a print title that is often looked for under different names or the recent change of the location of a title. Applied to Kindle e-books, a dummy bookmark is just as effective. A user can walk around the space where stacks are located and physically identify those e-books that the library makes available on a e-book reader in each subject section. By a visible cue, a dummy bookmarks create a direct sensory association between an e-book and something physical (that provides a visible and tactile feedback) in a user’s mind, thereby effectively expanding a users’ idea of what is available at a library.

When you pull out the bookmark, it looks like this. The bookmark includes the book’s cover image, title, author, and call number, which help a user to locate the title record in the library’s online catalog. But in reality, users are more likely to just walk down to the Course Reserves area to check out an e-book reader after reading this sign.

I tweeted this photo a while ago when I accidentally found out the idea was implemented while looking for some book in the stacks. (See the disclaimer below.)  I was quite surprised by many positive comments that I received in Twitter. Many librarians also suggested adding a QR code to the dummy bookmark next to the Call Number. The addition of the QR code would be an excellent bonus on the bookmark. It will allow users to check the availability of the title on their mobile devices, so that they can avoid the situation in which the e-book and the e-book reader device have been already checked out.

If you are running a pricy e-book reader lending program at your library, a dummy bookmark might be an inexpensive but highly effective way to make those e-books stand out to users on the library stacks. What other things do you do at your library to make your online resources and e-books more visible to users?

Disclaimer: I have suggested this idea at the E-resources group meeting where all FIU libraries (including Medical Library where I work) are represented. But the implementation was done solely by the FIU main Library for their Kindle e-book collection on their stacks. For those who are curious, I was unable to find the exact number of dummy bookmarks on the stacks. 


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? 


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