Of Books, Old and New Formats
by Mary O. Fumento
Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot
Something has been happening to your information while you weren’t watching: more of it is becoming available electronically instead of printed on paper. This trend is not necessarily negative, but is it positive? People continue to debate, and e-books are a cornerstone in both sides of the argument.
Some people claim electronic publishing lowers the cost of producing and obtaining information and enhances searching while others worry data is in the hands of too few publishers. But it is easier to publish online, meaning less censorship and more authorship.
One educational example is Cushing Academy, a New England boarding school which recently has started using e-books instead of paper copies. Laptops are handed out to students on financial aid or library computers are available to access the 13 databases to which Cushing now subscribes. Library workers download titles onto one of 65 Kindle handheld electronic book readers from Amazon.com, which circulate like just library books.
Not every community can afford to do this but some are considering something similar. In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is planning to save money by phasing out school textbooks in favor of Internet aids. He wants to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in state spending annually and believes converting to online resources will also help keep students updates.
What happens when information is in the hands of a few online publishers and makers of electronic devices? There is an electronic publishing rush on, and more players are willing to make the investment. For instance, Google is willing to challenge Amazon.com’s Kindle and rival it with its 1.5 million public-domain books available for reading on mobile phones as well as the Sony Reader. Don’t expect Google’s e-books to be free, however; prices will be determined by Google for consumers.
What about attractiveness? Some people think e-books are downright ugly. Covers tend to be just scanned versions of the physical book, although designers are starting to develop concepts for the electronic ones.
Depending on the device, fonts can be extremely limited and book design fairly non-existent. Kindle, for instance, has few fonts because of its .mobi file format while the iPhone has many fonts to choose in comparison. Color e-book readers probably won’t widely available until sometime next year. The current black-and-white displays offer readers no choice beyond increasing or decreasing font size, which limits reading pleasure.
Electronic format does not have unattractive or expensive. The Internet is a great place to see books available for online reading. Check out the free web site for International Children’s Digital Library: http://en.childrenslibrary.org/
Accessing information online is getting easier by the moment. The state of Wyoming purchases many electronic databases for us at http://gowyld.net/dbases.cfm
In other state database news, EBSCO no longer provides the EBSCO Animals database. It has been updated and offered as the "Encyclopedia of Animals", which is accessible through Primary Search, Middle Search, Searchasaurus, and the Kids Search interfaces. For example, when you click on 'animals' in Searchasaurus, all the articles are from the Encyclopedia of Animals. You can see the change at http://gowyld.net/dbases.cfm