NORRIDGEWOCK — There’s something about roaming through the stacks of books at the local library that fascinates Marnie Bottech.
“I’m a reader,” said Bottech, 75, as she picked up a Kindle e-reader at the Norridgewock Free Public Library on Tuesday. “I like the idea of reading a book, and I worry about the fate of the book. Libraries today have computers and e-books, and it makes me wonder if they will actually start to get rid of books.”
That concern is part of what brought Bottech to the library on Tuesday, where an array of e-readers and tablet devices will be on display this week. The hands-on exhibit is part of the Maine State Library’s Technology Petting Zoo, a traveling collection of electronic reading devices available on loan to libraries around the state.
Patrons can stop by the library to try out any of the seven devices in the collection, which include the most basic e-readers, Nook and Kindle, as well as tablets that have other capabilities such as web browsing and media streaming. It’s part of an effort by the state library to address the needs of Maine’s smaller libraries, which frequently are asked to help with patrons’ technology problems.
“If someone has a device, where do they go for help?” said Jared Leadbetter, a technology consultant for the Maine State Library. “The answer is you go to the smartest person in your community, which is often the librarian.”
On Tuesday, Leadbetter introduced several of the most popular e-readers and tablets to a small crowd at the library and encouraged them to ask questions and familiarize themselves with the devices.
The exhibit, which will be at the library until Tuesday, is called a petting zoo because the idea is for people to familiarize themselves with the devices by using them and seeing them up close.
“One of the great things about these devices is they are actively pantomiming real books — but they can do so much more,” said Leadbetter, who introduced the petting zoo on Tuesday with a tutorial on how to use the Nook and the Kindle.
Both are e-readers, tablets on which a digital copy of a book can be downloaded and read. But they are also marketplaces for selling books. The Kindle, produced by Amazon, requires users to register with an Amazon account and locks customers into buying books only through that site. The same is true for the Nook, which is put out by bookseller Barnes & Noble.
E-books have actually been around since the 1970s, but their popularity has been recent because for a long time there was limited access to readers that were easy to use and a large library of books, according to Leadbetter.
“It’s actually so easy now that I’ve heard at a lot of these events that people have accidentally bought e-books,” he said. The e-reader automatically links credit card information to account information making the purchase of a new book seamless and, at times, accidental.
Navigating the devices is easy, according to Leadbetter, who walked the small group through the ins and outs of the devices, showing them how to “wake up” the device, select a book, flip an electronic page, adjust the type size and navigate the homepage, which displays a split between books that are already purchased and books the device is marketing to the reader.
There are benefits and disadvantages to the e-readers and their larger counterparts, known as tablets, that have expanded capabilities such as browsing the internet and streaming other media such as movies, television shows, newspapers and magazines. Examples include the Kindle Fire, Nook HD+ and Apple iPad.
Print can be adjusted on the e-reader, so that readers who have trouble reading fine print have access to books they might otherwise be unable to read.
“Your favorite author may not have their book available in large print, but now any book is accessible through the magic of the readers. That’s really powerful for a lot of people,” said Leadbetter.
When a reader encounters a word they don’t know, there is no need to go to a dictionary — a dictionary can be prompted to pop up by holding a finger over the word.
And the cost of the e-books is generally less than a hardcover or paperback book, and many books with outdated copyrights are available for free. Yet libraries are finding that one of their primary objectives, which is to make books available to borrow, could be complicated by the introduction of the e-reader.
“It’s sort of what libraries are founded on, the idea of giving use for free, and we like that idea, but it’s not as simple as purchasing a book,” said Leadbetter. “When it comes to electronic lending, publishers add some speed bumps so that you may be more inclined to just buy the book rather than go through those speed bumps.”
Most libraries in Maine don’t have their own e-readers or tablets available for loan, although the concept is growing, said Leadbetter.
For patrons who own their own devices, the state library does have an online database of e-books that can be rented just like a traditional book. By buying the license to the book, the library can make it available for multiple readers, although just like a traditional book, it is limited to use by one person at a time.
The Norridgewock library has four Nooks that patrons can check out, each of which comes with pre-downloaded books on it. But one of the problems with having the devices is that because of their cost — prices range from about $50 to $500 — the library is taking a financial risk by putting them on loan, said librarian Kent Sindlair. There is also no good way for patrons to download their own books on the borrowed devices since downloading requires using the library’s account password.
Sinclair, who has worked at the Norridgewock library for two years, also said that using the readers to look through scholarly books with lots of endnotes could be difficult.
“I don’t know if it’s possible. Maybe there’s a way, but I think it would be difficult to go back and forth,” he said.
The introduction to the devices was as much a conversation about the importance of technology in daily life as it was an introduction to the devices.
“It seems like everyone I know is plugged in. I know technology connects people, but in some ways I think it takes away from real life. It’s not that person-to-person interaction,” said Bottech, who said that while she attended the session mostly to learn about what technology is available, she would consider getting one of the devices.
Ruth Keister, 66, attended the session with her iPad, the tablet made by Apple. She said her husband bought the iPad for her as a gift when she was traveling to Italy.
“I don’t think I would have gotten it for myself, but the longer I have it the more I like it,” said Keister, 66, who works as a patient observer at Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan. She likes to read while sitting up at night with patients while they sleep.
“This would be ideal because you can keep the light low,” she said.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368 | firstname.lastname@example.org |