Part 2 of a two-part series on librarian Keith Gatling and ebooks. Part 1 is here. Feel free to ask him questions via comments.
Some loved ebooks—others hated them. More than 150 comments showed up when librarian Keith Gatling wrote a Facebook post about a “very liberal friend who I found out is very prejudiced. Against eBooks.” In Part I, we reproduced a slightly changed version of the post. Ahead is more on Keith as an ebook fan. I’ve slightly edited the quotes for clarity and conciseness.
Keith, shown above enjoying an ebook at home, is a veteran tech instructor in K-12 and elsewhere as well as a creator of documentation. Holder of an MLS from Syracuse University in New York state, he taught computer tech at a small private school for 19 years. Then he landed his “dream” job as a patron services librarian for technology at the Liverpool Public Library in the Syracuse area. His “original charge was to show people how to use those new-fangled e-book readers,” but he “quickly became the go-to person” for all kinds of tech questions. Keith, 62, is especially in demand among older people.
Keith’s first experience with ebooks
I started on the iPad Touch because it was what I had and it got me through my daughter’s swimming lessons. It was also great for standing in a long line at Target, but it wasn’t my ideal way of reading. Paper books still won out over that.
I got my first iPad in 2012 after I discovered that it would be great for maps, and I wouldn’t have to load up the van with atlases of every place we planned to go to. A screenshot or seven of what was then Apple Maps, before they broke up with Google, did the trick. The iPad was also perfect for full–sized reading, and copying passages to send to friends, and searching for a favorite passage without having to read the whole book again, and being able to read the book with no hands. Really, I just put it in my lap, and my hands are free for other things.
What size iPad? The standard 9.7-inch model. The Mini was too small for me and the 12.9-inch Pro is too big. The standard one is the Goldilocks version for me and is just right.
More on his use of ebooks and other technology
I almost always have my iPad with me. I used to carry it, and some other stuff, around with me in a little backpack. My wife has since sewn a custom made shoulder bag for me to carry my “regular stuff” in. That includes the iPad, my other eyeglasses, my camera (a good digital camera for taking good pictures with, not the Swiss Army Knife camera that’s in my iPhone), a Ziploc bag with a tabletop tripod set and both lightning and Android cables in it, another Ziploc bag with cough drops in it, a Glad container with a $5 set of headphones in it, a 6×9 envelope with stamps and return address labels in it, and room for a few more things as needed. So while waiting for the rest of the family somewhere, I can always get on my iPad. Oh, and when I have it checked out to myself, one of our library’s 10 mobile hotspots.
I own an iPhone SE. I had inherited an iPhone 5S from my sister when she upgraded (and that’s a whole other story about the availability of cheap smartphone service through Tracfone), and eventually got the entire family used 5’s, 5c’s or 5s’s through Amazon. When I finally decided to buy new, I opted for the SE because it would fit the cases and holsters we already had. My phone is always on me because it’s always in the holster on my belt.
I really struggled with the idea of spending $450 for the 128GB SE until I remembered that 15 years earlier I’d spent $450, in 2001 dollars, on a 4GB iPod that only played music. At that point, I told myself to shut up and buy the phone already.
For reading, I use OverDrive for library books and Kindle for things I buy myself. Why not Barnes & Noble’s Nook platform? Probably because I’m a regular purchaser of Amazon gift cards to use for spending on other things, too.
Do I listen to audiobooks? Oh, yes! I started with them years ago with a service that rented them to you on cassette, and I’d listen to them on my Walkman as I walked to and from work. Later, my wife and I joined Audible, which allowed us to buy audiobooks to put on our iPods. We’re still members, and find audiobooks more convenient to use for books that it might take us more than three weeks to get through. I listen in my car when I’m alone because I don’t think it’s fair to hold someone else hostage to a book they may not be interested in—and especially just a short section somewhere in the middle.
My wife listens to audiobooks on CD in her car and from Audible on her phone so she has one book for driving and one for walking. I haven’t successfully gotten her into OverDrive books yet. I also haven’t successfully gotten her into ebooks. When she decided to reread Hawaii and discovered that the print in the copy she’d read in college had gotten smaller, she asked if we had a large print version at our library. I don’t recall whether or not we did, but we did have it as an ebook. When she complained that it was too hard to get that way, I got it for her. She had a few problems with it, which may be related to how old her iPad is, and hasn’t tried again. And for what it’s worth, her 83-year-old mother has used a Kindle for at least the last eight years, and loves it!
I also listen to podcasts in the car, and there are certain ones I save to share with the family—like “Lexicon Valley” and “That’s What They Say.” “Lexicon Valley,” at about 30 minutes long, is short enough for a trip to church or her parents’ house and back, with time to spare. “That’s What They Say,” at about five minutes, can fit into a trip to the grocery store. Since we’re way behind on both podcasts, having only been introduced to them relatively recently, we’re catching up from the beginning, and tend to put a lot of them into the car playlist for long trips, with about 30 minutes of music between them.
What kinds of books do I like? I’ve been reading a lot of theology lately. Especially things having to do with Judaism. The running joke here is that I’m a very Jewish Lutheran. I also like non-fiction and biographies, but I also like fiction—but nothing depressing or dystopian. I get too much of that in real life to want to read about made up depressing scenarios. A. J. Jacobs! I love A. J. Jacobs, and listening to him do his own audiobooks.
When Keith buys ebooks and when he reads paper
When I can’t find a particular book that I want to read in ebook format either in our library system or in the New York Public system (which anyone who lives or works in New York State can join), I’ll actually buy the ebook from Amazon rather than read a paper copy.
There are important exceptions to this, such as reference books, especially computer reference books. There’s nothing more annoying than reading on your iPad a book on how to use your iPad. I just purchased a paper copy of Short Story & Novel Writer’s Market because I figured that was better had in hard copy so I could put tons of stickies in it.
And of course, there are the so-called “coffee table books,” which are meant for people to pick up and look at when they’re at your house. Just before Christmas, I discovered there was a book about the making of my favorite Christmas special of all time, “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.” It was out of print, and the book, which was $40 when it came out, was now $85. I snapped it up immediately and pretty much read through it in one night.
Keith’s wife and daughters as ebook users—or nonusers
Everyone in this family has iPads. Four iPads, four iPhones, four MacBook Pros. I’m the only devoted ebook person in the house. My wife does it when she absolutely has to. My daughter is a devoted ink and paper person. She goes to Barnes and Noble to add books to her collection.
We all use our devices, but for different things. Sofie, the 16-year-old, uses her iPad mostly for watching videos on YouTube and movies and TV shows on Netflix. My wife doesn’t use her iPad anymore because it’s too old. She plans to buy a new one soon. She does, however, use her phone for texting, taking pictures, playing games, and looking things up.
As for why my 16-year-old daughter avoids ebooks, she says:
“I feel like I can’t see my progress like I can with books because you can look at the top and see the progress you’ve made through it—instead of using the numbers that don’t mean as much to me.”
My wife says that she doesn’t find anything wrong with the paper experience, and prefers it to the screen experience. She also likes flipping pages. She doesn’t hate ebooks, she just likes paper better.
Our 26-year-old is in Pittsburgh, and who knows what she does or thinks!
David, not Keith: In line with his thoughts in Part I, at least Keith has given his wife and daughters a chance to try ebooks. At my end, I can remember when my sister, now 68, and brother-in-law, now 70, were skeptical. They’re now passionate about E and read mostly that way—won over by the convenience and the ability to change the type size. My late wife also loved ebooks. Yes, as Keith said in Part I, E can be a lifesaver for older readers. As for seeing progress in books, Kindles and other popular devices and apps have visual indicators you can use to see how far along you are in a book. I realize that isn’t always as quick as a look at a paper book. But for me, the indicators are sufficient.
The advantages of E are endless—more than enough, at least in my case, to balance out the shortcomings. And not just because of the ability to change the font size and style. Via the search features of popular ebook gadgets and apps, you can check on on earlier mentions of, say, characters in a Russian novel—you’ll see the snippets surrounding the search words. Amazon’s X-ray feature, available on many books, can even give you instant backgrounds on characters.
For library patrons, particularly those on tight budgets, ebooks are especially attractive. No fines. Ebooks expire automatically after three weeks of whatever the lending period is.
The need to worry most about reading, period, rather than what kind
Sometimes the point isn’t to win. Took me a couple of decades to figure that one out. If someone in my family is more comfortable reading regular books and understands how to use them better, then that’s fine. At least they haven’t decided they hate them without trying.
And you know something: For some things, regular books are just cheaper all around, and you’d have to have bought a whole ton of them before you spent as much as you would’ve on a tablet. I mean, how many paperbacks would I have to buy before I spent as much as I would on my iPad? And that’s just the cost of the iPad. I’m not even including the cost of the books for it. Even then, I can get used books and remaindered books very cheaply. Can’t do that with ebooks, even though the price of an eBook shouldn’t be anywhere near as much as it is for a paper and ink one. Rather than seeing ebooks as an opportunity to get more books into the hands of people for less, and making more money, the publishers are looking at it as making more profit off of the same list price, without having to maintain costly inventory. Someone’s not thinking straight.
David, not Keith: The high price of ebooks from large publishers is outrageous. They worry more about paying for their existing infrastructure than developing new readers and expanding the market. Americans today spend a fraction on books and other reading of the amount they splurge on other forms of entertainment.
The good news is that more reviews from trusted sources are appearing about self-published books and those from smaller publishers. What’s more, library ebooks from OverDrive and other sources are free. The issue is one of resources and selection. You can wait for many weeks for digital versions of bestsellers, and even some other books, in many and perhaps most cities.
Libraries need more tax money and philanthropic money to buy books and other content. Along with some librarians, I’ve been proposing a national library endowment and public and academic library systems at the national level to increase resources and libraries’ bargaining power. Both E and P would benefit. Those are my thoughts, not necessarily Keith’s.
How to get kids excited about ebooks
The ebook is just the container for the words. I want them excited about reading. And even then, reading is just one way of getting the words. Audiobooks count too! If I can get them excited about hearing the story, or what the author has to say, that’s good too!
I read somewhere that reading as reading is only important up until about sixth grade, when you’re trying to get them the practice in reading. After that, after they’ve become proficient at that, audiobooks are not cheating.
Working with older people
My exact age is 62.75. For some reason, my patrons think I’m a good 15 years younger than I actually am. Tell that to my knees! But then, I look at a picture of me when I actually was 47, and there’s just a little less gray, so maybe they’re not as blind as I think. One thing about my age is that when someone says to me, “I can’t do this, I’m 60 years old,” I can look at them and say, “I’m almost 63, and I don’t want to hear this!”
Black people and ebooks
As for black people and ebooks, I got nothing [to say here]. First of all, my experience is simply my experience. Second, I work in a library in a mostly white suburb. Third, I don’t mean to sound snippy, but there seems to be a common misconception that if not all, most black people are poor, when, in fact, 70 percent of us are above the poverty line. In fact, there are more poor whites than there are blacks altogether. So as far as access to books goes, you might want to look at it in terms of access to books for all those who are disadvantaged (is that the term du jour?)
Keith’s own writings
I haven’t had time to write a short story since I began working at the library full time five years ago. I have an unpublished novel, however, that I’ve promised a good friend I’ll try getting published this year. That was written before the short stories, and the short stories were an attempt by me to see how the digital market would work for me. I don’t write about vampires, so I think I made about $50 over five years. I’ve also had articles published in The Lutheran (now Living Lutheran) magazine.