People are calling the library with this question this holiday season. Should they buy their old mom or dad an e-book reader? What does the library have to offer? Which reader is most compatible with the library's e-books?
Last week, a quite elderly man came in, an "eighty-something", wanting to get some library e-books for his Kindle. He seemed to think that he could check out a stack of e-books, take them home, and put them on his Kindle to read. Where was his Kindle? It was in his car. There was no way I could give him the help he needed. I was simply too busy. So I sent him down to KH, our e-media expert at the Media Desk, after calling her first. She was also busy, but said she'd do what she could.
Today, a man called from Boston, wondering about giving his father, who lives in our area, an e-book reader. I explained that the library currently offers fewer than a thousand e-book titles. Until recently, the Nook seemed to be the most commonly used reader, but that our vendor, OverDrive, had recently done a deal with Amazon to provide e-books for the Kindle. But Kindle owners had to have an Amazon account as well as a library card, since OverDrive will send them to Amazon to get the Kindle version of the e-book.
Did his father do e-mail? Many of the library's e-books have waiting lists, and users are notified by e-mail when their e-book is available. Yes, he said. Well, that was encouraging. Once the reader is properly set up to work with OverDrive, it should be pretty painless, I said.
The more I thought about it, the more I was filled with doubt. I remembered how we had given my parents DVD's we'd thought they would like, only to find them still in their wrappers when we visited. My parents had been unable to make their DVD player work with their new cable box, and had actually lost their remote controller.
These Boomer adults have gotten the impression that, if they buy their parents e-readers, the library will be able to supply their parents' reading needs with free library e-books. And at this point, that is just not realistic. Even if learning to use an e-reader is not too steep a learning curve for their parent, libraries don't have the funding to provide e-books in the same numbers as they do hard copies.
I've delivered services to senior communities, and I know how much they read. Assuming that they become comfortable with downloading e-books to their readers, they will very quickly read through our current selections. They will be able to get the most popular authors from the library, provided they are willing to wait. But they will also have to purchase additional titles on their own.
I guess I would ask a couple of questions when people call, wondering if an e-reader would work for their parent. Is the parent already computer literate, and using e-mail? Do they have any experience with portable devices, such as an iPod or a smartphone? If not, an e-reader may be outside their comfort zone,and will likely stay in its box in a closet.