What ebook reader should I lend from my small school library?
October 24, 2010 10:42 PM   Subscribe

I run an elementary school library in an economically diverse urban neighborhood. I want to buy a couple ebook readers so that my kids can see what using them is like (and so I can learn about the issues around lending and using these devices.) Various questions inside.

First, the whole idea has serious flaws. I can certainly afford a couple $150 readers, but if I then spend, say, $100 on 5 books for each device, I'm getting terrible bang for my buck since only 2 kids can be reading any of those 10 books at a time. Plus, as I understand it, I can't simply build a collection of ebooks and load them as needed on different readers because they're tied to the reader they're purchased with.

So, I thought I had a great idea when I found the Nook can load ePub files downloaded for free from the public library. I could buy and lend the devices and not bother with buying any titles– just help students to download the titles they want from the Seattle Public Library system, which reportedly has a great collection. Problem is: they seem to have few kids' titles.

I'm looking for advice for how to proceed with a small trial. Just to be clear: I'm only interested in lending my own devices with books preloaded, my kids won't have Kindles (etc.) of their own. My kids will not be interested in free titles from Gutenberg, they'll want to read the newest Rick Riordan and F.E. Higgins. I need a system that requires minimal time for setup (no complicated format conversions). Thanks!
posted by carterk to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You know they'll get broken, right? Sooner rather than later?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:04 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, I should have stated that this will be for responsible older students only. I honestly believe that my students will take care of the things. However, if this class of ebook reader is especially fragile, that's something I want to know.
posted by carterk at 11:08 PM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: Correction: to the best of my knowledge, books aren't tied to the reader they're purchased with, but rather to the account. You can have up to six Kindles linked to a single account--just set up carterkschool@gmail or whatever, purchase the books through that account, and then authorize each Kindle on that account. All the kids (well, okay, up to half a dozen of the kids) will have access to each book.

Still a limited number of kids reading each book, but maybe not quite as bad as you were thinking.

That said, it's worth mentioning that the problem you're finding with the public library isn't necessarily going to be a whole lot better online. YA and middle grade fiction isn't being offered in ebook format in nearly the numbers that adult fiction is. Big books--books with a large adult crossover market, books by Big Deal Authors--and book that have a strong nostalgic pull on the 25-and-up crowd seem to be offered pretty consistently. Midlist and stuff from smaller houses is harder to find. I'm sure that this will change at some point, but that point could be after this Christmas's rush of ereader sales, or it could be in ten years when we've got a sub-$50 device that's as common as cell phones are. So your selections may be more limited than you'd like for some time to come.
posted by MeghanC at 11:22 PM on October 24, 2010

I've broken the screens of two e-readers so far in about two years of use. I'm putting the e-readers in cases now. I hope that will extend their lives but I don't know yet. I can't see their control buttons surviving long term use. If it's just a matter of distributing e-books, then you might want to think about installing nook or kindle apps on a PC.
posted by rdr at 11:25 PM on October 24, 2010

Depending on how large you want your collection of ereaders to be, the same book can be on up to 6 different Kindles/Kindle devices registered to the same account. If you were thinking more than that, however, I'm not sure where you would find the requisite free books to make the system work. From what I can tell about the library book lending, you can only put one book on 6 different devices, as well (at least at my local libraries), so even if they got more children's books, you'd still need multiple borrower accounts if you wanted more than 6 copies of something (though it would at least be free). I'm not aware of any way that you can (legally) get unlimited copies of new books in ebook format.

I actually read a lot of young adult novels on the Kindle (not so many for elementary schoolers, though, so YMMV), and so far I'd estimate about 90% of the ones I am interested in have been available for the Kindle. I'd probably also take a look at the BN store and Amazon to make sure the kinds of things your kids will want to read are available, or available through which type of device. Also, post Christmas would probably be the best time to buy the Kindle 2s on eBay/craigslist, as I bet a lot of folks will be getting 3s for Christmas.
posted by wending my way at 11:28 PM on October 24, 2010

I'm not sure what you mean by "tied to the reader they're purchased with." If you mean that you can't use, say, Nook books on a Kindle, this is true. (Though there is apparently some Nook/Sony interoperability.) But, at least for the Kindle, any books you buy on one account can be downloaded to any other device on the same account -- they just show up in the archived items. (Some books have a limit of six devices.) Possibly a plus for you, there's no way to delete Amazon-purchased items completely without going through the website and logging into the account; even if someone screws up and hits delete on the Kindle, they can get the book back in another click, provided they're online.

As for fragility, I believe the screens are very thin plastic over glass, and they have been known to crack under pressure. I wouldn't just throw my Kindle in a bag without a cover on it; mine has held up fine for a year and a half now. (My girlfriend's, on the other hand, was somehow broken while sitting in its case in a bag on the floor that neither of us can remember touching. It wasn't shoved or put under anything heavy, and yet.) Someone somewhere probably makes more hardcore protective cases, or at least they should.
posted by sineala at 11:31 PM on October 24, 2010

My Kindle 2 I've had for a year doesn't have a scratch on it, and I throw it in my bag (in a Waterfield case with a screen protector built in - I think the Ultimate?) to take on the plane all the time. I've forgotten and used the bag as a footrest a few times, too, with the Kindle on top. I highly recommend those cases.
posted by wending my way at 11:36 PM on October 24, 2010

Flexible screens are on the horizon, but I don't know how long it will be before they will be generally available. Plastic Logic was promising this neato evolution on shelves by spring of this year, but then backed off and said they were dropping development. Now there's talk of the Skiff, which looks promising, but I'll believe it when I see it.

It's going to happen, because it has to happen; the only question is when. Current Ereader screens are very fragile. You don't even have to drop them to break the screen; if they are twisted just right, they break. As in, you set your reader down on the couch, somebody comes along and accidentally sits on part of it, torquing the screen, and there you go. Gone Ereader.

I still have my first generation Kindle, but I read mostly in bed, I keep it in its protective cover all the time, and I'm an adult and super careful with it. I've been keeping up with flexible screen development because it will be perfect for how my husband needs to use a reader for documents relating to his work (carrying in a backpack with a bunch of other stuff and using in all sorts of locations under all kinds of conditions), as well as his tendency to fall asleep on the couch and drop whatever he's holding — tv remote, laptop mouse, book).

I will say that there's pretty much no chance Amazon isn't working like mad on their own version of a flex-screen reader, but I'm not sure what's holding everybody up. We've seen several presented as prototypes, but nobody can get them on the shelves, apparently. Anyway, something to think about.
posted by taz at 11:55 PM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: I am a librarian who lends Kindles. I've done so for a few years now.

Managing the Kindle collection is pretty easy. The big trick is not associating the Amazon ID on the Kindle with your library's credit card. Create a new account, purchase some gift cards, and attach the Kindles to that account. This limits the damage any one person can do on an unauthorized buying spree.

Another important procedure is to do a 10 minute 'Introduction To The Kindle' spiel for every new borrower. This helps set expectations, makes sure the patron knows how to change the text size or look up archived material, and helps reinforce the need for proper care and handling.

Once you have multiple Kindles linked to the same account, you can manage them from said account. You just need to turn the 3G wireless on and voila! For you, I'd suggest the newer non-3G Kindles. Just an extra layer of security.

Make sure you invest in the case. We use the standard Kindle cases and they're great at keeping the screen scratch free.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:01 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another important feature is the theft deterrence on different setups. Your paperback YA fiction stamped with PROPERTY OF PUBLIC LIBRARY has minimal resale value compared to a Sony Reader. Something that ties to an account may be preferable. More generally is the loss issue. Are you ready to hit a low-income kid with a $200 bill for the Reader/Nook he lost?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:56 AM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, the news that purchased books can be 'shared' across multiple (6) readers is especially helpful. I'll look into cases: at this point I feel everything (and I mean everything) is an investment that may not be re-couped and everything is consumable.
posted by carterk at 8:39 AM on October 25, 2010

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