It’s All About Appearances

In Borders the other day I happened upon this display. Glancing at it, I figured “oh, looks like they’re hocking the Twilight books pretty hard still.”

But on closer inspection, that wasn’t the whole story. There was a Twilight book or two in the vicinity, but the books they were hocking were a bit older. In fact, they were classics. Playing on the black and red cover styles of the Twilight books, they had Wuthering Heights with the tagline “Love Never Dies,” and a sticker that lets you know it’s “Bella & Edwards favorite book.” They had Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the tagline, “The Original Forbidden Love…”

They were attempting to fleece young people into reading classic literature. Kind of a good idea. There’s that hackneyed adage about not judging a book by it’s cover, but that’s exactly what everyone does. People who enjoy Twilight have probably read all the books by now, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to read. Repackaging classics into thicker volumes with larger print and a flashy cover just might get young people to read these fine works of art. Most of the time it’s all about appearances.

How can libraries steal this idea? How can we change the appearance of something to make it more appealing or relevant to users. An example might be your library’s website. There’s good content and useful tools on there, but maybe the way they’re displayed isn’t exciting or makes users turn to something easier.

Perhaps by reformatting the website content, making it prettier and more interactive, users might be more inclined to navigate to your website and stick around for a while.

Are there other ways we can change the appearance of something, either physically or online, to increase usage?


The Perfect E-book Reader

Christmas is just around the corner, and I’m sure people are giving their bibliophile loved ones Amazon Kindles or Barnes and Noble Nooks as gifts. There are still some flaws with these devices though. This begs the question, what would the perfect e-book reader look like? What features would it have? Well, the perfect e-book reader…

  • Can do more than just read e-books – E-book readers need web access. In this world of multitasking and shortened attention spans an e-book reader that can only read e-books fails. The average person only reads four books per year. This makes devices dedicated solely to e-books into toys for gadget geeks or people that read voraciously. A device that only reads e-books is still playing to a small market. Also it would be useful while reading an e-book to look up a fact on Wikipedia or share a quote you just read on Twitter.
  • Has multi-touch technology – Instead of having buttons to turn a page simply touch the upper corner of the page, or gesture across the screen like you’re turning a page. If you want to zoom in on an image within a book simply pull your fingers apart around it (similar to the iPhone’s technology). This would certainly enhance the experience of reading an e-book.
  • Reads multiple formats – The perfect e-book reader would be able to read any format in which books happen to be, whether it’s in HTML, PDF, a Google Book, e-books from Amazon, e-books from library subscription databases, etc.
  • Allows you to write in the margins – Like regular books, the perfect e-book reader would allow you to write in the margins and personalize your copy of the book. The reason we love books is because we form personal connections to them. We write notes to ourself and try to interact and have a conversation with the book. The perfect e-book reader would allow you to highlight passages and attach notes to them. It would also allow you to share these notes if you wanted. Then we really could start having conversations with our books.
  • Is readable for long periods of time – It would have to use something like e-ink which more closely mimics a paper reading experience than a backlit LCD display and causes less eyestrain. The device would also have a long battery life. At least enough to make it through an entire book.

Some of these features are possible and in use, but there is still some growing that needs to take place in both technology for a device and e-book standards, practices and legal issues. To create the future, though, we first have to dream it. What else is needed for a perfect e-book reader?


Amazon has an Orwellian moment

photo from pcorreia on flickr

photo from pcorreia on flickr

When you buy a physical book you own it. You can read it, dog ear the pages, and even resell it. It’s called the doctrine of first sale. This is not the case when you buy books on the Amazon Kindle. Yesterday they deleted copies of Orwell’s works 1984 and Animal Farm from customers who purchased them on a Kindle, while crediting a refund to their accounts. You can read about it in the Wall Street Journal.

This raises some serious questions about ownership, privacy, and the future of books and reading. People, especially librarians, have been questioning ebooks and their implications since they have come out. Something electronic is much easier to quickly change.  Much like in the deleted Orwell book 1984:

“Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.”  Book 1 Chapter 3 (Also on diveintomark.org)

Ebooks, as evidenced yesterday, are also much easier to be destroyed. It reminds me of another dystopia: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In that novel the firemen had to come into your house, remove the books and burn them (or just burn the house down). Now books can simply be deleted via wireless internet. Poof. It’s gone. Like you never owned it.

Amazon has now said publicly that they will not do this again. But this makes me question the Kindle and the impermanence of ebooks. Big fail on Amazon’s part.