Tag Archives: library

First thoughts on my new Kindle (and why I didn’t go Sony in the end)

2 Mar

Finally, after much discussion on this great CILIP LinkedIn thread, and after seeing a colleague’s one, I went Kindle. Yesterday I spent a whole evening in a feeding-frenzy blitz on the Kindle store. I love it. Here’s why.

Look and feel

I have to admit the look and feel is the main reason I chose the Kindle rather than Sony. The Kindle feels smooth, lightweight and thin. The Sonys I tried in the shops were more boxy, although I have to admit my first impressions were coloured by the shop testers always looking well-worn and covered in greasy fingerprints. But whichever way you go, an ebook reader gives me that magical sensation I remember getting from my first iPod – “you can fit all that… in this?”

Convenience was my second reason for going Kindle. I already have an Amazon account and everything I need is just right there. With both wifi and 3G, I know I can choose a book and immediately it is ready to read, wherever I am. And when I was browsing Amazon in my lunch break I could buy a book and send it straight onto my Kindle at home – no  messing around with cables or switching on my PC later. Price-wise, the Kindle does well to provide all this functionality – the Sony Reader had a touchscreen but no wireless for the same money.

Uses

Reading ebooks is the obvious first answer. But it also supports .doc and .pdf files (amongst other things). Which means I can use it for work – perfect for meetings, for presentation scripts (notes), and so I can refer to a document while writing on my PC without having to juggle around windows. And since you can email documents to it, if you go out the office without your report, a colleague can email it to you on-the-fly.

Kindle vs books

I have to say, using a Kindle feels more like a book than a PC. The eInk is very distinct, and without the backlight it does feel gentler on the eyes. It also has a still, calm, object feel – no whirring fan or hard drive. And with the simplicity of the functions available to you, there isn’t the distraction of flicking to a web page for a moment, or fiddling with an MP3 player. This makes it good for a soothing bedtime read.

A lot of people say they’d miss the feel of holding a book, but here are some things I don’t miss:Big old fashioned, leather bound book

  • Losing my page – with books I bookmark, fold the corner, or balance it on the arm of a chair until later… none is quite as reliable as the Kindle’s automatic memory
  • Carrying a weighty tome
  • Carrying three weighty tomes in case I finish the other ones
  • Not having my weighty tome because I thought I might not need it and I didn’t want to carry it
  • Trying to balance it open while I do something else – and the infernal decision about whether to just crack the spine…
  • Pages falling out
  • When other people underline everything and make notes that are, of course, wrong
  • The number of bookcases I need to hold my full collection and the space this takes up.
  • Paying – there are so many great classics available for free as well as some more modern titles. For most books, Amazon is good at pricing eBooks lower than hardcopy.  And yes I know there is always the library, but I find the opening hours awkward.
  • Waiting for books to be delivered.

Remember when mp3s first came out and many people said they’d still buy CDs – for artwork, for reassurance, to lend to friends. Is that still true? Doesn’t the convenience and space-saving eventually outweigh all those nice-to-have sentiments?

Proprietary problems

The biggest disadvantage of the Kindle, which put me off for some time, was the fact it didn’t support EPUB. Yet this is the format which libraries use to support the lending of eBooks… While I don’t see Amazon rushing to change that one, there is increasing pressure in America for them to do so. Until then, if you want to explore information service usage then go for one of these options.

Personally, I haven’t come across ebook lending at my library yet, so don’t feel I am missing out. Yet. It was a compromise. The more people buy locked-down proprietary machines like Kindle, the harder it could be to implement ebook lending in the future. I’m hoping it will work out like iPods – at first there were a number of proprietary formats and proprietary machines, but eventually that opened out and DRM-free mp3s became readily and widely available to buy. It is a risk but my final reasoning was that £150 was a bargain for all the free books alone, and if I need to and EPUB lending takes off in the future I can always buy another ebook reader then – when potentially prices are lower and there is more choice.

But for now there is more than enough free and low-price reading material to keep me happy.

Coming soon…

My favourite ereads and recommended websites for ebooks.

Classifying people – a dilemma between access and agenda

10 Mar

Obviously we do this all the time – with careers as our focus, we tend to define people by their job when we want to present their stories and expertise to students. But when we created an online careers resource for diversity and equal opps and it seemed the first point of interest to users would be the disability/disadvantage/difference – let’s stick with the site’s term “barrier” – that they had to overcome, which suggested classifying and arranging this material by that barrier. Of course that would mean emphasising the barrier over the achievement, defining the person by their barrier not by their work as we do for everyone else, and therein lies the problem.

David Blunkett with guide dog Ruby... in lego

Blind man or politician?

Putting the barrier first feels so contrary to not only diversity sensitivities, but also the whole message of the site. We want to say that you can move beyond your barriers, that they shouldn’t restrict and determine your career. We want to say that you can choose and build your own identity, that David Blunkett is not “a blind man from a poor background who has done well”, rather that he is a politician first and foremost whose work defines him in just the same way as everyone else.

Our solution so far has been to kind of mix the two together – creating a list of stories with long headings like “Mature Student becomes City Solicitor” so both aspects, barrier and career, are represented. It is not a good solution. It is okay while we still only have a few stories – it is possible to skim the list for words of interest – but it is not very friendly for dyslexic or ADHD users to have to trawl through disorganised long titles, and it will only get rapidly worse.

Another mixed option would be to use tags/keywords and just put a tag cloud on the page so users can select ‘blind’ or ‘politician’ and bring related stories. The trouble is, last time we based retrieval around a tag cloud alone we discovered many users were unfamiliar with this and needed help. We really need this diversity site to be intuitive and easy to use above all, and hierarchical classifications and lists are more familiar.

About Face book coverI wondered what our contributors would think – would they feel irritated at being put in a box labelled ‘deaf’ over everything else, or would they feel ‘being deaf is a key part of my identity and I want to help other deaf students’ so barrier first is fine? I am reading a book About Face at the moment, and it gives descriptions of the experiences of blind people in communicating. The contrast between those born blind, and those who experience it later in life is marked. In particular, those born blind seem more comfortable with blindness as an identity, whereas those who experience it later feel it more as an impairment and loss. In which case, different contributors will have different opinions about what should come first.

Why worry so much about what contributors will think? Surely it is down to the students – what will they expect to use? If we were talking about books or links, it would be a different matter, but in trying to classify people’s stories and lives the designation is much more significant. More than making some political point about overcoming barriers, it feels like a point of respect – if we are going to offer up people’s lives, we should do so in ways that are consistent with their outlooks.

Then, of course, in thinking about what students would want to use, I realised my assumption that they would seek information on their own barrier first may false. For a blind student wanting to go into law, let’s assume their first choice would be an identical match of circumstances, but for their second preference would they go for a story about a blind person in accountancy or a deaf person in law? Not a clear answer, maybe both?

So I feel left in a situation with neither a clear idea of what users would prefer, nor what would be truest to the contributors.There seems a strong case for classifying twice – put in two lists, one by barrier, one by career – and link to the same stories from both. But again, is that unfamiliar organisation confusing for users, with stories appearing twice over? I’m confused. People just don’t classify well do they?