Libraries, technology and e-books–go with the flow…

Kindle vs paper

Libraries are becoming virtual, and there are some distinct advantages…

Technology is changing the world, and libraries are picking up on the changes. As a long-time library patron, it has not been uncommon for me to head out to the local branch nearly every weekend. Typically with ~20 books out, including paper ones, CD audiobooks for the car, and more recently, “Playaways” (not to mention another stack of books for my kids when they were younger), I often find myself unable to renew and return everything precisely on time. The library used to be more lenient, and have a grace period for late returns, but no longer. So I often willingly pay the little fines for late returns. All for a good cause.

All that is changing. A couple years ago, I bought a basic Kindle to read e-books. In truth, I prefer the paper (okay, ‘dead tree’ for you tree-huggers) format. Why? First, I find that I am less likely to remember the title and author’s name when I read the Kindle format. The book opens to the page I am on, and unlike a paper-book, I don’t continually see the title and author’s name (which eventually become etched in my ever-weakening memory). True, I can always look up what I have read on the Kindle, but that’s beside the point. Second, I like to know how much of the book is left. Kindle gives me a percentage (i.e., read 88%), but that’s not the same. The problem is if there is a reader’s group discussion, or long acknowledgment at the end–in such a case, the actual book might end at 95%. With a paper book, it is easy to just flip and see what page is the end. Another minor complaint is navigation within the book. I feel much more comfortable going back a couple of chapters to check what a character said in the paper format. However, admittedly, that is me being ‘old-school,’ as there is certainly an opportunity to e-navigate on the Kindle–especially for those who grew up with e-technology.

The advantages of e-books are many. For a start, the size and weight of a Kindle makes it an excellent choice for travel. Before travel, I was often faced with the irritating decision of whether I would complete my book on route, and be left as a ‘book-orphan’ for the rest of the trip, or whether to drag a second heavy novel with me. At times, I would even start a new novel just before travel, and leave the one that I’m halfway through at home. Another feature that I love is the built-in dictionary; looking up new or unfamiliar words has always been a sore point with me, as I hate to stop reading and pull out a dictionary mid-sentence. Even using an iPhone dictionary is disruptive–but the Kindle has a wonderful built-in dictionary which is a pleasure to use.

Perhaps the biggest change coming is the burgeoning relationship between libraries and e-books. Rather than decry technology, libraries are bravely embracing it, and evolving rapidly to stay relevant. And they are succeeding! My library (and the entire Omaha Public Library system) now carries Kindle, PDF format e-books and even recorded books on ‘OverDrive‘ for remote electronic checkout. This means that on a ‘simple’ iPhone, I can browse the library catalog, and download Kindle books and recorded books, which I can listen to on my iPhone while exercising or driving, or read on my Kindle, iPhone, iPad (which I don’t have) or computer. Instantaneously–instant gratification.

As a reader, I am like a kid in a candy store–but as an author, I am also enjoying the rapid changes in the publishing industry. Being as this is the holiday season, and everyone is avidly looking for a great gift for their favorite scientist, I can shamelessly resort to plugging my own creations. As recently outlined in a Nature article about scientists who are authors of fiction, my books are selling. Most astonishingly, my first novel, Matter Over Mind, selfpublished back in 2010, is still selling strong — in fact it’s outselling my other two books combined. I have no real explanation for why it continues to do so well comparatively, except that the subject — a scientist with a parent suffering from bipolar syndrome — is of interest to a wide group of readers.

All my novels are selling better on Kindle than on paper, and now that Amazon/Kindle has expanded into libraries and books can be ‘borrowed,’ I find that I am receiving consistent royalties from the tracked “number of pages read” too. It is, however, too preliminary for me to quit my day job and live off my royalties…

Here’s wishing all scientists, authors and colleagues and virtual colleagues and friends — a Happy Holiday Season and happy, healthy, New Year.


About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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