University library sees demand for Kindles soar

Oregon State undergraduates have flocked to the library's Kindle rental program.
Oregon State undergraduates have flocked to the library's Kindle loaner program.

For students looking to temper sober textbook readings with a literary escape into the world of vampires and zombies, Oregon State University is loaning out Amazon Kindle electronic readers stocked with the latest in popular books.

The Corvallis, Ore.-based university has found it too expensive to fill its Valley Library shelves with fiction and nonfiction books that students would read for fun, not homework assignments or upcoming exams. So in November, the university began lending Kindle eReaders to students and faculty willing to part from traditional page flipping and embrace a technology being tested on campuses nationwide.

The immediate demand for the electronic books forced Valley Library officials to alter Kindle policies created by a campus task force last summer.

Because the library sign-up sheet now includes 189 students and faculty members waiting for their turn to use the Kindle, officials shortened the borrowing period from three weeks to two, and they bought 12 more Kindles in February to add to the original stock of six eReaders.

“Students used to approach us and say, ‘I’m just looking for a book to read,’” said Loretta Rielly, interim head of collections at the Oregon State library, adding that Pride, Prejudice and Zombies and books from the Twilight series were popular choices among students using the Kindle. “But we’ve never had Stephen King, we’ve never had those kind of books … so we’re glad to provide a popular reading collection now. It’s a way of investigating new technologies and trying to keep up with the devices students are using.”

Students and faculty sign up to use a Kindle, then buy up to $20 in eBooks to read when it’s their turn to borrow the device. Oregon State covers these costs, and the electronic books remain as part of the library’s eBook collection.

The eBook loaner program costs the university about $2,000 this year, Rielly said, adding that the school would pay for the program with “gift money” donated to Valley Library.

Anne Marie Kornelis, an Oregon State senior who works at the library’s circulation desk and borrowed a Kindle last weekend, said she overcame initial frustration with the unfamiliar layout of eBooks on the device and eventually found the format convenient.

“At first, I thought, ‘This was so not worth it,’” said Kornelis, 22, a nutrition science major. “It took me a while to sit down with it and really get the hang of it.”

Kornelis said she didn’t know the Kindle picked up on the electronic page the reader last read, and she couldn’t navigate back to the table of contents without fiddling with the device’s scrolling and page flipping buttons.

But the eReader simplified the tricky balance of reading during a meal, she said.

“It was definitely different, but it was really nice to eat with,” Kornelis said. “My hands were free because I never had to turn the pages, and if you make the font large, you can read it from far away. … I found out why there was so much enthusiasm from students about [the Kindle loaner program].”

College students have had a tepid response to the Kindle as some education technology advocates have hoped the device and other eReaders would revolutionize how textbooks are distributed and read on campuses.

Princeton University students and faculty who were surveyed after the school’s pilot program ended last month said they appreciated the portability of the Kindle DX, and the fact that it greatly reduced the printing and photocopying they did for their courses. But they said they missed the ability to highlight text directly, take notes, and flip back and forth through pages of their textbook easily.

About 65 percent of the participants in the Princeton pilot said they would not buy another eReader now if theirs was broken. Almost all the participants said they were interested in following the technology to its next stages, however, because they think a device that works well in academia would be worth having.

The things students liked best about the Kindle DX included its battery life, the wireless connection, and the portability of the e-Reader device; the fact that all the course reading was on one device; the ability to search for content; and the readability of the screen, including the fact it could be read in full sunlight.

Oregon State launched a web site last year explaining what the Kindle was, how students and faculty could borrow the device, and loaner rules. The site includes links to lists of eBooks—there were 57 titles as of March 1—that can be read with the library’s Kindles, and an online form for students and professors to join the growing waiting list.

Despite the immediate popularity of the university’s Kindle program, Oregon State officials said digital rights issues would prevent eBooks from replacing traditional books any time soon.

“It’s the obvious place for eBooks to go, but right now there isn’t a good platform for it,” said Anne-Marie Deitering, the university’s Franklin McEdward professor for undergraduate learning initiatives, who is part of the team looking into the Kindle program.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Oregon State University Kindle site

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