Can we finally put the argument to rest? E-readers are not killing reading, nor are they killing books. As research shows, people who own e-readers not only read more than people who don't, but they read both e-books and print books. Not to mention, there are plenty of populations, from prison inmates to seniors, who will need print books for a long time coming. Neither one is going away.
That's not to say that they're the same, though. Far from it. In my experience, e-readers attract different types of readers than print books, and they're also engaging more people who were previously non-readers. Anybody who thinks that's not great, well... There are also scads of e-reading apps available for phones, tablets, and computers, so e-content is available to more than just people with Nooks and Kindles. People use e-readers for a variety of reasons, from pleasure reading to research, so it's good to consider how many bases you can cover. The Pew Research Center released a report on reading, readers, and e-readers recently, and ALA of course responded. While Pew's data is encouraging (among other statistics released, the study found that people who use e-readers read more books per year than people who only read in print), ALA pointed out that the stats of who reads at all, and who reads in what format, are also related to education and income level. So what can you do about it?
First, take a look at your e-book collection and see what types of materials are most widely represented. In my anecdotal experience, I've found that bestselling memoirs and adult fiction are easy to find in e-book format, as well as genre fiction like westerns and romance. Pew's study also indicated that people are drawn to print and e-books for different reasons, based on the types of materials they can find. This is your chance to offer innovative e-materials, as well as to fill some gaps that your print collection just can't do. If your library offers Kindles or other devices for checkout, and not just the e-materials, see if you can designate one of them as the YA e-reader, and fill it up with some teen-friendly stuff that will attract readers and non-readers alike. If you don't have library-owned devices, you can always offer these suggestions on a flyer for your patrons who own personal devices.
- Download literary and other magazines that are published for online audiences, in PDF format. For me, this is why I bought my Kindle in the first place--my grad school reading heavily leans toward the downloaded journal articles, and I didn't want to clutter my hard drive or break my eyeballs reading it all on my computer. You might try things like Sucker Literary Magazine, a new magazine of YA fiction available on PDF and Kindle form, the Fairy Tale Review, which publishes fiction and poetry based on or inspired by fairy tales (their first issue is free and in PDF form, and the rest can be bought on an issue-by-issue basis), or Anthology, a collection of writing from a longstanding literary magazine by and for teens, Cicada
- Load your e-reader with some free or inexpensive word and logic games. Both Nook and Kindle have a variety available. For a cost, both major retailers, as well as educational software companies, offer specialized dictionaries and other apps for academic subjects, too.
- Have a strong immigrant, refugee, or bilingual population in your library? E-readers offer you the chance to bulk up your collection in other languages for a lower price than many print books. Amazon's Kindle store has a huge selection of Spanish-language e-books (though it will transfer you to its Spanish version of the website, so make sure you can read it, or get help from a colleague), as does Barnes & Noble's Nook store. There are fewer available in other languages (and currently Kindle only supports the Roman, Chinese, and Cyrillic alphabets), but it's worth looking at. GoodReads also has a collection of downloadable e-books (you must be a member of the site) ranging from classics to fan fiction to multilingual titles. Speakers of Portuguese might want to try the Brazilian service Iba, which has a proprietary reading app of its own and a variety of magazines and e-books.
- Engage non-readers with great ideas that aren't in print. For those e-readers that support sound as well, try downloading some recordings of Ted Talks on subjects that have high teen interest, like girl power, teen scientists, and atheism.
- For those teens who don't mind reading on the computer, let them know about Pulse It, an online reading community by Simon Pulse that allows teens to use a browser-based e-reader and gain access to new titles each month, all for free. If any of your patrons are serious book bloggers, you should clue them into Net Galley.
- Many people cite e-readers as the reason they are reading more books in the self-help or health genres, as well as in the fluffy fiction areas, because nobody can tell what they're reading. For teens, you can use this as a way to get out those titles that teens may not want to be seen reading, like books on mental health disorders, sexuality, or body image. That same fear of judgment is also a reason to consider loading your e-readers with hi-lo titles from Saddleback for those teens reading below their grade level.
- Who doesn't need a bit of humor in their life? Dave Eggers knows you do, and his pantheon of hilarious websites and print publications offer lots of it. For your patrons with iPhones or iPads, suggest the McSweeney's app, which also sells limited e-book editions of books from McSweeney's and related publishing ventures, like The Believer and 826 National.
What are you doing with e-content in your library? Please post your ideas and suggestions here!