Sunday, 24 May 2009

British Library invites readers to explore the future of the book

British Library takes a welcome lead

This week in London, The British Library launched a three month display which gives their readers the chance to test drive three e-readers from Sony and iRex Technologies currently available in the UK.

BL Readers
The category of "reader" is important here. British Library readers are still mostly drawn from the traditional research and scholar community looking for access to the unique primary and secondary resources held by this premier European heritage library.

The Library hopes the e-reader display will give "visitors the chance to familiarise themselves with these new devices and to freely explore the possible recreational and research benefits of the e-book revolution"

In an surprisingly, at least to me, enthusiastic press release, they say e-readers offer "a hugely versatile reading experience", and that, in what they they describe as an explosion of interest in recent months, the publishing industry has hit its 'iPod moment'.

Digital Literary
They also say that " as one of the World's greatest research Libraries and a leader in the UK's knowledge economy, the British Library has a vital role to play in ensuring our readers are equipped with the digital literacy skills to be able to use such technology and thrive in the 21st century research environment"

Better devices
They acknowledge, traditionally, e-readers have struggled to compete with the traditional book due to issues with low battery life and the use of harsh back-lit screens. However, they now note that these obstacles are being overcome through the use of e-ink technology, and that e-reading devices are more capable of satisfying reader expectations and can deliver a variety of additional functions such as the ability to vary font size, access WiFi and make annotations.

The also describe the devices on display:

Sony Reader: Encased in stylish brushed aluminium, the Sony Reader is super slim, intuitive to use, easy to navigate and with an exceptional battery life of up to 6800 page turns.

iRex DR1000: Helping the environment, the DR1000 allows companies and individuals to print directly to an e-reader, cutting out the need to print billions of pages every year.

The iLiad: With an integrated Wacom tablet and stylus, the iLiad allows users to annotate works, bringing e-books one step closer to being a replacement for the real thing

Content on board, and to come
The e-readers on display have been pre-loaded with material currently available on the market. However, in the future, they hope " to exploit e-reader technology to facilitate access to our own digital collections, allowing readers to explore rare and often out of print items such as the 80,000 editions of 19th Century English literature recently digitised in partnership with Microsoft."

They hope, " improving access to such collections will let readers rediscover a range of forgotten 19th century classics, adored by readers of the time but lost amongst the millions of works published since"

Feedback requested
The BL are inviting researchers to have their say – tell them what they like, what they don't like, and how they feel these new devices will change the way we read.

Professional endorsement
Dr Stephen Bury, British Library's Head of European and American Collections:
“This is not the end of the book as we know it. The book in its physical form will remain important for so many reasons, but the incredible versatility of the new e-readers makes them perfect for researchers, allowing easy access to a wealth of information including previously rare and out of print material. This exhibit gives our researchers a chance to play around with some of the devices currently available, and explore how they can be used to complement existing printed collections in the 21st century.”
Further details, here


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