Electronic Books

Time-to-Adoption: One Year or Less

Now that they are firmly established in the consumer sector, electronic books are beginning to demonstrate capabilities that challenge the very definition of reading. Audiovisual, interactive, and social elements enhance the informational content of books and magazines. Social tools extend the reader’s experience into the larger world, connecting readers with one another and enabling deeper, collaborative explorations of the text. The content of electronic books and the social activities they enable, rather than the device used to access them, are the keys to their popularity; nearly everyone carries some device that can function as an electronic reader, and more people are engaging with electronic books than ever before. New, highly interactive publications demonstrate that quite apart from their convenience, electronic books have the potential to transform the way we interact with reading material of all kinds, from popular titles to scholarly works. Electronic books are being explored in virtually every discipline, and the advantages for students make this technology worth pursuing.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Inquiry

  • An obvious draw for students is the advantage of having a single handheld reading device that can easily accommodate the entirety of readings involved in one’s study, as well as all the essential reference texts.
  • Electronic books provide school districts with a way to acquire books at a very low cost; online resources can be purchased at the district level that grant students free access to thousands of books. In addition to often being less expensive, electronic books are more durable and easier to store than their paper counterparts.
  • Electronic book readers can allow students to record, archive, and share commentary and notes about what they are reading, facilitating the work of study groups and research teams.

In Practice

  • LibriVox is an online archive of public-domain audiobooks, all recorded by volunteers, including children’s content: http://librivox.org
  • Blio is an electronic book publisher that creates full color, feature-rich books, ideal for textbook content: http://www.blioreader.com/
  • The International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) makes children's literature available online free of charge. Two free iPhone apps let kids read and create books: http://en.childrenslibrary.org/

For Further Reading

Devices to Take Textbooks Beyond Text
(Anne Eisenberg, The New York Times, 5 December 2009.) New e-book readers, in addition to displaying standard text, offer liquid-crystal displays to better show graphics and other items found in color in textbooks.

Google: We Will Bring Books Back to Life
(David Drummond, Guardian UK, 5 February 2010.) This article offers perspectives on Google’s efforts to digitize millions of books and the value this would have for research, exploration and access to content that would previously have been very difficult for most people.

The Tipping Point: Textbook Politics Meets the Digital Revolution
(Brian Thevenot, The Texas Tribune, 6 November 2009.) This article cites some of the challenges faced, and promises in store, as state and school agencies begin to consider the adoption of electronic books and readers on a large scale.