In defense of e-readers for older patrons...most e-readers have the ability to enlarge the size of the type, turning all e-books into large print books. Consequently, e-books allow libraries to increase their large print collection without having to pay extra for a special copy of something they probably already own, and patrons who need large print aren't restricted to just the (relatively) small collection of books available in large type.I had also decided to look for some data about who is using e-readers. I found a Nielsen survey from last August that does not bear out my concerns. Changing Demographics of Tablet and eReader Owners in the US shows that by the second quarter of 2011, an impressive 30% of e-readers were owned by people aged 55 and over. Only 18% of smartphones were owned by the same age group. And whereas the majority of tablets, (iPads, etc.), are owned by men, and smartphones are evenly split between the sexes, a solid 61% of e-readers were owned by women, which shows that they have a unique appeal.
This survey predates the launch of the Kindle Fire this fall, with which the e-reader morphs into an all-purpose text/music/video/gaming digital entertainment tablet. Barnes & Noble and Sony are in the race as well, with the NOOK Tablet and the Sony Tablet S. It looks as though these products are no longer primarily e-readers, as they seem to have back-lit displays, and not the reader-friendly "e-ink". I doubt that our Old Women will opt for these over a dedicated e-reader. Book readers are small potatoes. Book publishing has always been a marginal industry. They have decided to challenge Apple, and to compete for the music and video market, where the real money is.
I have to confess that my reservations about e-readers for older readers are in part due to my own frustration with taking calls asking for help using them. It is like not knowing how to drive a car, and trying to answer questions about driving by referring to the driver license manual. I try to talk them through the "dance" using the OverDrive help, but I don't have a picture in my mind of what they are seeing on their device. I don't own a "portable device" of any kind, be it a mobile phone, a Blackberry, an MP3 player, a tablet, or an e-reader. I don't even wear a watch. I use a desktop PC at home and at work.
And, dear reader, I too am, at 57, a "senior". I'm not alone, among librarians my age, in finding the whole digital scene too much to take in. There is a bewildering variety of devices; smartphones, iPods and other sound players, tablets, older e-readers that need to be loaded from PC's and newer, wireless ones that can download directly. All of them need different "apps" and set-up to work with our library audio books and e-books. I am grateful that we have some younger staff who are more able to help.
But I think the time has come to shop for an e-reader, late-adopter though I am.