Electronic books (ebooks) have been around for quite a while. They've never really taken off, though, because they generally must be read while sitting at a computer. A lot of people don't like spending time reading on a computer screen - the glare and relatively low resolution (compared to print) of the screen makes it uncomfortable for them - or while sitting on a relatively uncomfortable desk chair. On the other hand, being able to do a full-text search of a reference book in ebook format is a definite advantage! To combat the computer screen problem, ebook readers have been coming out for years, trying to make reading from a screen a more pleasurable experience. Many cell phones also now have features and applications that let you read books using your phone. They are convenient, but still not something that most people want to curl up with and read.
The newest ebook readers, most notably the Kindle and the Sony Reader, are appearing on the scene with new technologies designed to make reading on screen more comfortable. The Kindle uses what they call an "electronic paper display". Sony's Reader uses "E-Ink". Both are supposed to be more like reading on paper than on a screen. They are both about book-size and have large book storage capacities. Unfortunately, they are both electronic and not really ready for the bathtub reading that many people like to do.
You can, of course, read lots of ebooks online without needing any kind of reader or even any money. Project Gutenberg, named for the man who brought us the printing press, has a huge selection of books that are no longer copyrighted. All the classic books that you have been meaning to read, all 17,000 of them, are available - if you don't mind reading them on screen or printing them out on paper yourself. More recent books which are still under copyright are available at MRRL through the netLibrary service. These are books that are available for you to use any time - even when the library is closed - and can be checked out just like our printed materials.
Have you ever used an electronic reader (phone or dedicated device)? Have you ever read a book online? Rochelle Hartman, a library manager from Wisconsin, has received a Kindle for her library to use and test out. She wrote about the possibilities of library usage for the Kindle recently. Do you think any ebook reader would be usable in a library? Would you like to see a library offer an ebook reader for checkout (provided the legalities are ironed out)?