It’s no secret that probably anyone on campus would toss out that scratched flip cellphone for a sleek new smartphone, that antiquated iPod mini for an iPod touch, or even that clunky IBM laptop for a MacBook Pro. Technology seems to be moving forward at lightning speeds, so quickly that we must constantly spend extra pocket money on the latest gadgets in order to keep up. But just how many people on campus would be willing to scrap something that’s been around for much longer than any “ancient” cell phone: the printed word? With the advent of the e-book, many a grumble has been raised about declining newspaper, magazine and, yes, book sales. Just as smartphones and the like are infiltrating campus, so too are e-books. And this body of bespectacled, academically-focused individuals has quite a lot of thoughts about e-books, to say the least.
One way more people are coming in contact with e-books is through the libraries, which purchased e-books and netbooks last fall for students to rent for a few hours. According to Wendy Sherman, access services and reserve assistant at Sawyer, the library has three e-books (two Sonys and one Nook) and two netbooks, while Schow has four e-books and two netbooks as well.
A few e-books floating around may not seem like such a big deal. However, Mercedes Shriver, reference and web development assistant at Sawyer, said that the system is unique because it allows students to access 34,000 electronic books that aren’t in the library. “The cool thing about the system is we purchase the books after they have been viewed a certain number of times,” Shriver said. “So basically, it’s patron-driven acquisition.” The e-books are especially useful for reading the latest published books on technology and science, in addition to standardized test prep books, which one would not find among the library’s many paper volumes.
Are these library-owned e-books shades of an entirely digitized library in the future? “I know they’re very popular and out all the time,” Shriver said. “Our job is to look at student needs and meet them. So we may buy more. I could definitely see library of the future being completely electronic.”
For those readers out there who are clutching their paper copies of the Record and trailing their fingers protectively over their 15-pound textbooks, be assured that an entirely digitized Sawyer or Schow will not materialize in the near future.
Take the story of Akemi Ueda ’11 as some evidence. Enrolled in “The Human Face in the Modern Imagination,” a class that is cross-registered under English, comparative literature and art history, Ueda discovered that Assistant English Professor Bernie Rhie had posted all readings on a special website online. The first reading was 75 pages long. Disliking the glare of reading on her laptop and realizing that the PaperCut funds just wouldn’t cut it, Ueda decided to check out one of the library’s new e-books. “It was not perfect reading on the e-book at all,” Ueda said. “The page layout was a double spread, so I had to zoom in on each page.” Nevertheless, Ueda told her entire class about her idea and encouraged them to try it out.
In assigning the next voluminous reading, however, Rhie realized he was being a little overzealous in his attempt to avoid killing trees. He asked Ueda’s class if they would just prefer good-old reading packets. “Everyone was like, ‘Yes!’” Ueda said. “And I admit I’m kind of grateful he went the old-fashioned way.”
On a personal scale, Ethan Gracer ’14 has undertaken a challenge to use an iPad all year in some of his classes. He uses it for science and math classes, in which note-taking involves writing and diagrams. “Notes that I type are definitely faster. I use my laptop in art history,” Gracer said. “But I can definitely write on the iPad as quickly as on paper.” According to Gracer, his iPad makes studying for classes like biology, which involves a heavy load of memorization, much easier because one can search for specific terms instead of flipping through 80 pages of notes. “I don’t need any notebooks except my iPad,” Gracer said. “There are so many pros – I don’t run out of ink or paper, though I could potentially run out of battery.”
Reactions to his iPad usage in class run the gamut from excitement to outrage, though some teachers who are opposed to all forms of technology have forbidden the iPad in class. “I’m not one to care if people judge me for taking another style of notes,” Gracer said. He admits, however, that he must make sure to mute the sound on his iPad in the same way that every student always makes sure that their Ke$ha ringtone is on vibrate. “There was this one time in bio when I didn’t mute the sound, and I hit a key and music started playing from it. That was kind of embarrassing,” Gracer said.
In terms of looking past freshman year, Gracer said he may or may not continue to take notes on his iPad. “I think it’s a very personal choice that I’m going to stick with at least through the end of the year. I’m a computer-y person and I don’t have a problem with reading on the iPad,” Gracer said. “We’re moving into a digital realm – everything will become digitized, the question is just when it will happen.”
In addition to taking notes on his iPad, Gracer uses the nifty machine for leisure purposes like reading the newspaper and downloading movies for those long Williams Motorcoach rides. Likewise, Jeff Fossett ’13 uses his personal two-year-old Kindle for pleasure reading. “There’s something to be said for books and I honestly have a lot of them,” Fossett said. “But I like my Kindle too – the reading experience isn’t as bad as people expect it to be.”
Perhaps the main reason that Fossett likes his iPad is that it solves the classic problem of comfortably reading in bed. “When you’re lying on your side, resting half of the book on the bed, it’s really easy to read it. But then you have to try to read the half that is lying on the bed, you know?” Fossett said. “On the Kindle, every page is on one screen, which eliminates the book-rotation problem.”
Quite a few students and professors on campus are quite willing to put up with the “book-rotation problem,” however. Karen Swann, professor of English, stressed how important the spatial layout is in a physical book. “I read a lot of poetry, and I like being able to see the entire structure of the poem and its placement on the page,” she said.
Another student in the pro-paper-book camp is Paisley Kang ’12. “E-books are terrifying to me,” Kang said. “I like being able to open and close the book, to smell it, to feel it, to put a bookmark in it.”
No matter how many people herald e-books as awesome or awful, one thing is for sure: They are not going to be putting paper books out of business in the next few years we are at the College.
“I just think the College shouldn’t go too fast and do something like go down the Duke/iPod route,” Ueda said, referring to the Duke experiment of giving every student a free iPod with which to stream podcasts. “I’m hesitant to say that they are the way of the future.”