Colleges Provide Testing Ground for E-Book Innovations

Article excerpt

When librarians at Robert Morris College in Moon Township, Penn., sought volunteers for a research study on using e-books in an undergraduate class, Ashley Hamilton eagerly volunteered to experience what she considers to be an inevitable wave of academic technology.

This semester, Hamilton, a sophomore elementary education major from Westfield, N.Y., has used both her newly purchased Hewlett-Packard laptop and a loaner handheld e-book device, known as the Gemstar e-book, in place of regular books to complete readings for an American literature course. The handheld e-book device, one of four reader units owned by the school library, was loaned out to Hamilton.

"I thought it would be a good idea to give it a try," she says. "You never know, regular books may become obsolete."

For the past year, David Bennett, a librarian at Robert Morris College, says he and his staff have studied student adaptation to e-book devices and laptops configured with special reading software. This semester, Bennett and fellow librarians are working with five students, including Hamilton, from Dr. Jay Carson's course, "Major American Writers" to develop a research database on e-book devices and reading software configured for both laptop and desktop computers.

"We were concerned that e-books would be introduced in academic settings without much research," Bennett says. Later this month, Bennett will be presenting findings of their research at the annual Educause conference for higher education information technology professionals in Indianapolis.

Around the nation, academic librarians, campus bookstores and faculty members are rolling out e-book devices and reading software to test the viability of the e-book. While the e-book phenomenon has become fairly popular among the general reading audience with Web retailers, such as Barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com selling them online, it represents a largely undertested concept in higher education. And experts don't foresee e-books replacing printed books in academia as a dominant medium for texts.

In its most basic form, e-books are books that have been converted to computer-readable, digital format. That format allows the content of books to be downloaded into personal computers, laptops or portable handheld reading devices. E-books are also equipped with digital rights protection tools, which often places limits on the availability of a text to be duplicated or transferred from one device to another.

E-books enjoy certain advantages over printed books. Large numbers of them can be stored in computer and reading-device memories, along with supplementary texts such as a dictionary. …