eBooks project summary

THSLS logo for the ebooks project“You’re giving iPods to schoolkids?” was the reaction that I was getting used to. Admittedly it sounds to most people like a good way to lose just over £1000 and enrich the local branch of CEX.

My other fear was that we’d be asked exactly why we were putting money into this project. Perhaps it was just paranoia on my part in the midst of financial meltdown, moats and duck houses, and a general witchhunt in the public sector.

But we’d all had enough of the general perception of librarian = luddite.

The project aim was simple – objectively gather evidence of how young people react to reading electronic books. Using test groups of 10 pupils at a time we’d note their reading habits, different levels of literacy and their (perceived) computer literacy and exposure at home to technology.

Then they’d each get an eReader, a small but reasonable book budget, and a month or so of time to read. At the end of the trial period they answer a probing questionairre about the experience, we have a chat with them, and we get some real feedback that actually counts for something – how easy did they find chosing their books for example, and did their reading patterns change?

“Do you work for Apple?” was the rather intuitive question that I was asked by my first group of guinea pigs. If I’d been bag searched at Mile End tube it would look as though I’d just mugged Steve Jobs.

I’m far from being an Apple fanboy, but the iPod Touch was about the only e-reader on the market at the time that fitted the bill. We’d road-tested Sony’s Reader and despite it’s Muji stylings the technology looked like something that Nintendo left out of the original Gameboy. I did briefly consider the benefits of it putting off any potential mugger (and it was heavy enough to be used as a club), but I knew that anyone under the age of eighteen would discard it with contempt after finding that it didn’t have a touchscreen.

At this point the UK Kindle release was uncertian and another part of the brief was to address the ‘digital divide’. At no point would the pupils have to use a PC to download books. The teachers who asked why they couldn’t use the school computers to download books had clearly never wasted time trying to get Adobe Digital Editions working properly over a corporate network (even our public libraries lending eBooks can’t manage this small miracle, thank you DRM).

So the eReader had to be WiFi enabled so that books could be downloaded via a public hotspot. This also removed the issue of pupils downloading pirated books via torrent sites, at least onto my machines – I won’t name the school that thought it was a good idea to trust it’s students to supply ‘free’ books for it’s VLE, but there’s no free lunches with the next generation of DEB inspired ambulance chasers lawyers on the prowl. You never know when they’ll make the jump from PrOn and music to eBooks.

So the only option was the, admitedly very sexy, iPod touch. It was pocket sized, had several eBook apps, including Kindle with the Amazon catalogue behind it, the new iBooks app (rushed out for the iPad launch but they seem to have ironed the bugs out now) some very good comic book apps, and I could lock the access to iTunes and the app store to stop my budget going to Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and Pop-cap games.

Two weeks later I would find myself being accused of money laundering and fraud by a finance company but I’ll save that for another post.


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