What does it mean to read a book? Well, it means lots of different things. It could mean sitting at a desk, with a highlighter in one hand and a pen in the other, taking notes and memorizing concepts; “actively reading.” Reading a book could also mean sitting on your bed with a paperback cracked open, the television tuned to a game show, and a Spotify playlist blaring into your earbuds. Other ways to read a book: listening to a Playaway or a library book via Overdrive while hiking a mountain or popping CD after CD into your car stereo during the evening commute. Reading a book is no longer a one-size-fits-all exercise. And really, when we talk about reading a book, we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room: many readers now bypass traditional paper-bound books in favor of shiny e-reader screens.
I was hesitant to join the e-reader bandwagon. I’ve always been a purist when it comes to books. I like books with spines that crack and show signs of life when opened enough, books with “new book” smell (gluey and fresh), or books with “old book” smell (musty, sometimes mildewy); books with bookmarks that move millimeter by millimeter, like small hikers traversing the peaks and valleys of stories, their progress a source of pride.
While everyone around me seemed to be buying into Kindles and Nooks, I resisted. I was convinced that using an e-reader would be tantamount to betrayal. I finally relented one Christmas a few years back and set myself up with a Kindle Fire. I have to admit: it was exciting. Of course, there was the usual “Shiny New Toy Syndrome” and I became obsessed with pressing every button and exploring all the nooks (that’s a little e-reader humor) and crannies of the software. It was a little thrilling to know that with one little tap on the screen, I could have a brand new book within my grasp.
The cold, hard truth is that despite the romance of traditional books, electronic books have a lot going for them. Portability alone is a big convenience: no need to carry around a 500-page tome when you have it in a device weighing less than a pound. We no longer need to keep a supply of books in our purses, luggage, or backpacks to sustain us; we no longer have to live in fear that when we finish Book X, we will want to start Book Y, so we should have that nearby, and we need Book Z in case Book Y stinks. A virtual bookshelf travels with you, wherever you journey.
Also, let’s not overlook the practical benefits for readers who are sight impaired. Not everyone enjoys listening to their books, and not all books are available in audio format. However, with Nooks, Kindles, and other tablets, text can be enlarged to an impressive degree. We can also have a more immersive experience. For example, some e-readers, including the Kindle, offer text-to-speech, and many, if not all, can look up words and provide definitions if you come across a new term. You can even “highlight” the text as you go, which is great for students or book club members to keep the important stuff front and center. The fact is, I’m a highlighting fanatic. I can’t say that the virtual highlighter provides the same joy as its squeaky, yellow brother, but it’s not a bad substitute.
You might not realize this, but you can borrow e-books from the library! Our website provides instructions on how to download available books via multiple platforms, including Kindle, Nook, Android devices, and Windows devices (That’s right, “available books” means that e-books are like regular books: a title might be checked out to another patron, so you may have to wait for it, and e-books will automatically be checked in and removed from your device when your loan period expires).
I know I’ve said this before, but it really is the truth: We want you to use the library! If that means borrowing e-books, then we want to help you to borrow e-books. Get familiar with the Overdrive app. Look over the instructions on the website. Call us if you need help, and we will try our best to walk you through the process. Bring in your device if you’re really stumped.
You are not a traitor if you own and use an e-reader. I am a library patron and a bookstore browser. I am also a Kindle owner with a slowly growing virtual bookshelf. It’s okay to be both. At the Levittown Public Library we welcome the shelf browsers and the virtual readers. Whether it’s made of pages or bytes, we will get the right book in your hand.