Not much more than a year ago, I was that person who proclaimed I would never own a Kindle. I loved books as objects (I have bookshelves in every room in my house except the bathroom) and, let’s face it, I’m kind of materialistic. I like to own things, to collect. At the same time, I had bigger concerns about a possible future where everyone would need a device to be able to read a book.
Flash forward to today: I am a Kindle owner. What happened?
At the high school where I work part-time as a teen library services consultant, we received a local education fund grant for a pilot project. This year, we formed a new club for readers called YA Galley. Participating students read advanced copies of books and post reviews to a group blog. As part of the pilot project, these students are exclusively allowed to check out Kindles (loaded with public domain titles, as well as new titles and advanced copies from NetGalley. I will be recording their reactions, via survey forms and video interviews, to see how e-reading impacts learning. I am lucky that the school where I work is very supportive of the Learning Commons and our efforts to try out new technologies; we have Flip cameras, laptops, and iPod touches reserved for student use.
Last week, we started checking out Kindles to the first four students to bring back permission slips and already they have so much to say. Clare, 15, is an avid reader who checks out stacks of books rubber-banded together before every school vacation. She saw both the pros and cons of this particular device, but is nonetheless enthusiastic about any venue for reading. She commented, “One thing that has bothered me is that, when I hold it, my hand is on the side bar and I change the the page accidentally. Also, when I turn the pages, it flashes black and take me out of the story.” She said that reading on a Kindle is her third favorite, after “real books” and her iPhone, whose method of page-turning she finds less intrusive. She added enthusiastically, “I like that the Kindle has three pages of books to choose from and I could have any of them!”
Another student, Jelle, 16 echoed her sentiment. A proud owner of a first generation Kindle, he shared, “The thing I like about it is that you can have literally hundreds of books in something so tiny and light that you can carry around with ease. It’s great for airplanes and re-reading books. There seem to be some formatting issues– I notice more typos–but I don’t feel like I would rather have a real book.”
Elizabeth, 15, was a little disappointed by how hard it was to switch between different sections, since she was reading Catherine Fisher’s Sappique, which is told from three points of view. That said, she added, “It is really lighter [than a book] and easier to carry around.”
The students participating in this pilot project are some of the biggest readers in the school, who regularly finish three or more books in a week. Their initial and–hopefully–ongoing enthusiasm for e-reading has surprised me in much the same way that my own embrace of the Kindle did several months ago. I initially purchased the Kindle when the price dropped, out of curiosity regarding e-reading but also because I wanted to try out Netgalley. As a member of a YALSA selection committee, I read a lot (300+ books a year) and was eager to expand my access to advanced copies. When I think about it, my reasons for using and liking the Kindle are very similar to those discovered by my students. It turns out that my love of books and my interest in technology need not be mutually exclusive. And when you come to think of it, the Kindle is pretty cute, especially with the colorful skin I picked out….