“Le Papillion on the Park” seemed the perfect place to kick off spring with a lively discussion of e-books, e-book readers—their potentials and potential pitfalls! Cozying up to one of the tables set up for our SLA group in the back area of this quaint French restaurant on Eastern Avenue, I thought to myself: hasn’t this topic been sickeningly over-debated? What is there possibly left to say about e-book readers? But my sense of paranoia soon lifted as the fruity mixed cocktails began to circulate and we dug into the tasty, hot crepes that are a signature of “Le Papillion”. One dine-arounder was quick to whip out her quilted, stylishly clad Kindle and espouse its remarkable merits: the battery life lasts forever, you can read an insanely long book without having to feel like you are carrying a brick in your backpack, downloading from e-book stores is a breeze! She also informed us where to find cheap and stylish covers: Etsy. Still, other SLA members expressed a concern for the “dying book” in print and echoed what I’ve long heard to be the frustration of public libraries in having limited digital copies and licensing agreements to certain e-pubs. Does the e-pub necessarily signal death to cozy, snuggly paperbacks and the musky scent of bound leather?
Still, the benefits of e-book readers cannot be dismissed. I noted my own interest in this booming technology: for many readers, e.g. those with physical disabilities, e-book readers represent a new and exciting accessibility tool—a next phase in the disintermediary movement begun by the advent of the Internet. Ironically, however, e-book readers may just as easily contribute to an existing digital divide.
In this electronic age, where readers find themselves inundated with information and have easy access to digital downloads in the form of music, video, and text publications that can be quickly transferred from your PC to your portable device, who needs libraries or librarians anymore? Is it possible that such e-reader technology as the Kindle are only going to provide further munitions to those political forces that want to shut down or privatize our public libraries? If so, then devices like the Kindle, may come to be less representative of freedom for the reader than of a handicap. These would be interesting topics to expand upon at a future SLA dining event.