Monday, December 10, 2012

E-Readers: The Future of Reading

Reading is a very personal activity. What motivates a reader to finish a book or not is a mystery. Was the story lacking a plot? Was the writing style too flowery or just too plain? Where the characters engaging? All of these questions are valid to be asking from a publisher's and author's point of view. Even valid from the standpoint of a librarian who is considering whether a book is a worthwhile investment for the library. How are these questions answered? Before the digital era, publishers relied on sales of books to determine popularity and prosperity of an author's work. There was also the opportunity to have prominent reviews to promote the book before the publication, but by and large sales have always driven the market. For librarians determine what will circulate based on bestsellers and reviews. With e-readers things have changed slightly. Publishers now have the ability to track the reader's habits by gathering information digitally. They types of information they gather can be how many times an author's work is downloaded or how quickly do readers read through a book. This may seem innocent enough in the e-reader digital friendly era, but should there be some concerns for librarians about protecting the privacy of their patrons? Perhaps now is the best time to explore these issues. If the information that the publishers are receiving from e-readers download is simply to find out how popular an author is by then number of downloads, that is not a serious issue. That action in itself is not violating the readers right to privacy. However, what if the publishers were doing more than just seeing the number of downloads. Is there a possibility that other information could be obtained such as the types of books downloaded? Nonfiction? Fiction? Titles that deal with sensitive health issues or political views? Most readers might say that its okay for publishers and authors to find out what they are reading. After all this might motivate publishers to continue working with authors to write and publish the stories people like to read. Could there be a time when this information could be sold? Could this information get into the wrong hands where it could be used against the reader? Not to sound like an alarmist who believes that Big Brother is beginning to control all aspects of life, but it does seem a little creepy that reading habits could be monitored. After all, as stated previously, reading is an activity that is purely personal. There was a time, not too long ago, when getting an email required that a user subscribed to an internet provided such as AOL. Not true anymore. If users don't mind their email scanned for key words used for marketing. An email address is as simple as signing up for one in a matter of minutes. What has this got to do with digital reading? Plenty. Just as there are row away email addresses and disposable cell phones what would stop publishers from marketing e-readers that are one time use only, very cheap and to keep the cost down companies like NIke can advertise on the e-readers through pop-up ads. Don't think this would happen? It could especially with magazines and newspapers trying to find ways to stay afloat these days. Never mind the fact that more throw away gimmicks and technology will fill up garbage trucks faster than landfills. The ability of a company to "bother" the consumer while reading is enough to make any lover of print book to scream "I told you e-readers are awful!" Who would want to be interrupted during a pivotal part of story with an pop-up ad from Amazon? Frankly, this is another invasion of privacy but more annoying than intruding. One other thing to consider is that everything it seems is on the internet. Personal information work history, pictures and just about anything under the blue moon. There are times when searching the net or social media where the TMI moment happens more often than not. Librarians have always been at the forefront of protecting the privacy of their patrons. In the brave new world of digital access this will be harder to achieve. Libraries that are offering the Kindle or Nook for checkout to their patrons should be considering how "private" those devices are. Would a patron have the ability to see what other books were downloaded by the previous patrons? Amazon has a wonderful way of keeping track of what has been downloaded and suggests similar titles for the reader to consider. Would this not come up when Patron X checks out a Kindle after Patron Y? Libraries should not be loaning these items out until an e-reader is made specifically for the library market that allows for libraries to control content and history of downloads. E-readers like any other computer device, can be manipulated for purposes that might not be so noble. Certainly, this is an era where libraries are approaching with a mix of caution and excitement. The possibilities that technology has brought forth are fascinating. However, there continues to be the small black cloud of worry that follows the profession. Can library professionals continue to protect privacy and information of their patrons? It is a loaded question to be sure but it needs to be addressed and discussed.
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