In Kindle Debut, Library Turns a New Page
Published: Friday, September 9, 2011
Updated: Friday, September 9, 2011 17:09
The recent addition of five Kindle e-readers to Lauinger Library may have campus bibliophiles buzzing over a new chapter in education, but not every volume listed on the syllabus may be available in Kindle format.
For the last two months, the devices have been available for student and faculty use through the Gelardin Media Center. The e-readers may be checked out for up to a month at a time, and just one day after announcing the new Kindles, the library had filled their rental slots through October.
There's no guarantee students can optimize the rental for class use, however.
While the Kindle store offers nearly a million general interest titles for purchase, as well as monthly textbook rentals for as little as one dollar, its collection of college material is rather sparse. For example, only two of the 13 books required for one "Elements of Political Theory" course at Georgetown —which can be purchased new at the bookstore for about $200 — are available through Amazon.
At the start of this school year, Amazon only offered 18 of the top 100 college textbooks, according to CampusBooks.com. Even among those 18 textbooks, only five were available for the cheapest rental period.
"Academic books are trailing because there isn't as much commercial value," Beth Marhanka, department head of Gelardin explained. "It's just like with movie rentals — feature films are available first, then you get to the documentaries with academic content."
Lauinger has been expanding its collection of online e-books for years and now offers 10s of thousands of books electronically. Since the legality of loaning Kindle content has been a contentious subject, Lauinger's Kindle borrowers must purchase e-books out of pocket.
The basic Kindle put out by Amazon.com, which retails for $114, is the top-selling e-book reader, selling millions of units since its 2007 release. The latest $379 Kindle DX, the version that Georgetown offers, can hold 3,500 books while offering tools such as highlighting, note-taking and a dictionary.
"I think what libraries need to be concerned with is the content, not the format," Marhanka said. "It's incredibly important for libraries to be on top of this huge change in information technology."
Even as the number of course books available electronically has risen, recent trends show Georgetown students remain print devotees. According to Lauinger's Stacks Services Coordinator Claire Corbett, the number of printed books being checked out has remained relatively constant over the last few years despite the rise of electronic alternatives.
"When we work with researchers, faculty and graduate students, they almost always prefer to use hard copies of books," Corbett said. "It seems to only be some undergraduates who prefer electronic research."
Corbett noted that she has encountered some library patrons in the past who were angry that a certain text was only available electronically.
"People like holding the book and turning the pages, and they also might want to highlight or take notes on the pages, and you can't do that with something like Kindle," she said.
While e-readers have encountered substantial scrutiny from those who find a distinct intimacy with reading print material, Marhanka likens the situation to what occurred during the transition to online research journals, which students now access almost entirely online.
And though the dawn of Kindle at Lauinger is generating buzz, Marhanka said the Amazon product may not be the answer for academics. Rather, she sees a growth opportunity for tablet devices like iPads moving forward.
"Kindle is really wonderful for reading novels, but if you're getting into academic books, you need color and multimedia," Marhanka said. "What I find really exciting is when, in an e-text, you can click on a picture and it becomes a video. When you have the content of a book and the capabilities of electronics, it's the best of both worlds."
In 2009, Amazon announced a pilot project that first introduced Kindles to college campuses. About 50 students at seven universities, including Case Western Reserve University and Princeton University, were given Kindles to use in their classes. iPads, which tend to be more popular among college students, have also become available for students at many colleges. The University of Maryland, Reed College and the University of Notre Dame all recently implemented programs that distributed iPads, according to a report by the Chronicle for Higher Education.