I believe it is a good time to be an avid reader. Libraries of all stripes and bookstores (bricks & mortar as well as digital versions) maintain collections of books and magazines for readers to request or simply discover. Plus, there are more and more electronic platforms to access and read content. In a quick visual inventory around my own apartment, I identify five electronic devices that I use to access reading content on a regular basis. These devices help me extend my reading life beyond the comfy blue chair in my living room. I use them to bring stories, information, and learning with me as I move about the world. I currently use several apps to support my reading habit, including:
OverDrive Media Console (Free app; no ads)
This app allows me to access ebooks and downloadable audiobooks from library collections via my main mobile devices (Kindle, Droid2 and iPod Touch). To find libraries that offer this service, use the "Search for a library" tab at (http://search.overdrive.com/). To access OverDrive content, one needs to download software or an app. The desktop version of the software for PCs and Macs works fine (I use my laptop to download and listen to audiobooks that are only available as WMA files, or to transfer authorized files). For reading on the go, I use the Android and iPod Touch apps. Other mobile devices support this app, as well. There is a useful list of compatible devices available at (http://www.overdrive.com/Resources/DRC/Default.aspx).
The features of the OverDrive Media Console app are very similar on both my mobile devices. There is a ìBookshelfî that lists all the items you currently have checked out and downloaded on the device. Small icons indicate file type (ebook or audiobook). A tiny calendar shows the number of days until the file expires. The "Get Books" button allows you to search for and save links to your favorite libraries. Once you select a library, you can start exploring their digital content. In my experience, the layouts of library OverDrive sites have similar searching and navigation icons (Home, Browse, Search, Help, Login). It appears that libraries can do some customization on their OverDrive sites. For example, patrons can select items available for check out and put them in a temporary holding spot. I have seen this called "My Book Cart," "My Selections," and "My Cart" on different sites. To get a sense of the scope of a library's digital collection, I recommend accessing their OverDrive web site on a full-size screen. For example, the Army Digital Media Library site offers several ways for patrons to discover digital materials. Patrons can quickly browse the thumbnail visuals of new items by file type or use the links on the navigation panel to browse through available categories. The search menu also offers an opportunity to narrow searches by material type, and the Advanced Search option allows patrons to focus a search by categories like Subject, Awards, and Publisher. These features are available on other libraries' digital collection sites, as well. In my opinion, the Army Digital Media Library site is an example of a well-designed interface that is useful and intuitive for readers to explore a digital collection.
Just as in physical libraries, one can spend hours browsing through the digital collections. A friendly warning--most OverDrive sites have a 30 minute limit that an item can be in "My Book Cart." If you want to check out or put a hold on an item, you will need your library card number to log into "My Download Account," "My Digital Account," or "My eAccount." The check out process is smooth and your items will be listed and downloadable for the lending period. Items can be downloaded to multiple devices. The number of items one can check out varies by library, and the same goes for the number of holds. When a hold is available, the system sends a message to the email address you provide, and you have a few days to log on to check it out and download it. If you hit the lending limit for your digital library account, there is always a link to public domain classics at the bottom of the OverDrive site.
In terms of the reading interface itself, this app is straightforward and user-friendly. One can adjust the font size, brightness, and color of background (sepia is my favorite). The navigation button makes it easy to jump to different chapters, and the bookmark feature allows you to save your place in the ebook or eaudiobook. One can have multiple bookmarks, which are date and timestamped. One drawback for this app is the inability to make notes in the digital content. That is fine with me, though. Iíll keep a blank notebook by my comfy blue chair, where I can make notes about what Iím reading at the moment, regardless of its format.
Kobo (Free app; ads about Kobo features)
This app initially caught my eye because of its elegant and colorful design. The turquoise, cranberry and gray palette is visually appealing and makes the app seem fun and modern. The Kobo app was also free and available in the Android Market and the App Store. Although the color scheme and basic features are the same on my Droid2 and iPod Touch, the apps function quite differently on each platform. For example, the Android app has the option to import content, which means that the app can search my Droid2 for ebooks and make them readable in the Kobo interface. To date, I have imported several Project Gutenberg public domain ebooks files to read via the Kobo app, mainly because the app allows readers to highlight text and save notes quickly and easily. The highlighting and notes function does not seem available on the iPod version of the app. There are other, quite unique, features in the iPod version.
For example, Character and Place features automatically pop up when reading content from the Kobo store. While reading the free Kobo version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a tiny pink head automatically appeared in the margins next to Alice's name when it appeared for the first time. By selecting it, I went to a page where I had the option to learn about Alice on Wikipedia or Google. A similar pink icon appeared when I read about "The Rabbit Hole." These are interesting levels of interactivity to add to a reading app, and for some content, I might find it useful. For a classic story, however, I found it somewhat distracting. Luckily, readers can go to the Settings menu (indicated by a tiny gear icon) and turn off these and other notifications. Both versions of this app offer a service called "Reading Life," which consists of different reading awards. I recommend exploring this section on your own to see if the features appeal to you. The designs and colors are lovely. Some of the award ideas seemed funny to me ("Afternoon Rush Hour, to track the time of day you read"), while others seemed odd ("Scout Leader, to track the number of Reading Life awards"). You can also link your Kobo account to Facebook and share your Reading Life with your friends. Frequent Facebook users may find this easy linking an appealing and useful feature of the Kobo app.
One drawback to the iPod version of the app is the need to create a Kobo account to explore the Kobo store and purchase books or magazines. One would also need to sync the iPod with iTunes to transfer other file types (like PDFs or EPUBs). I doubt I will take the time to go through these extra steps, so for now, I will use Kobo on my Droid2. On this device, I can easily browse the Kobo collection (organized by genre and categories like "Books on the Big Screen," "Courage under Fire," and "Thrillseekers"). If the spirit moves me, I can buy a book right away. Or, I could check if I can get it via a library's digital collection.
Goodreads (Free app; some ads)
While taking a Readers' Advisory course during my MLIS program, I learned about several web-based tools that were designed to help readers track their reading, search for books, and connect with other readers. Goodreads.com was one of these resources. I used it heavily during the first few months after getting an account, and enjoyed seeing updates from my other bookworm friends. A job search, a big move, a new job and life in general interrupted my regular use of the site. Finding out about the Goodreads app, though, has reinvigorated my use of this tool.
I have the app on both my Droid2 and iPod Touch. My favorite aspect of the app is the barcode scan feature. It is a handy way to quickly import data about physical books. In terms of capabilities, the Android app is a mini version of the web site, with buttons to check updates, review your books, add books (by searching or bar code scan), find friends, and change your profile. It works well for me to do a quick update about what Iíve been reading. The iPod app is more robust. The "Explore" button allows you to search for reading-related events near you, read the most recent Goodreads reviews, and browse information and reviews from many genres. Plus, there are "Listopia" lists that offer a fun glimpse at other readers' reading habits. There is an eBooks section within "Explore" that gives you the option to download ebooks and read them within the Goodreads app. There is not as much customization in this app when compared with the reading programs in OverDrive Media Console or Kobo. Still, it is an interesting idea to incorporate actual reading into the app rather than simply having it be a platform for conversations about reading. Although there are occasional banner adds on the iPod version, they are discreet. Since I have chosen to be permanently logged in to my Goodreads account on both of my mobile devices, I find myself using the app weekly. It is fun to get updates about what some of my most book-hungry friends again.
Orange County Library System (OCLS Shake It!) (Free in the App Store)
This app turns the library catalog into a slot machine. I find it to be a fun way to discover items I would not usually find while browsing in real or virtual libraries. Need I say more?
Reviewed by: Caralyn Champa. She received her MLIS from St. Catherine University in 2009 and applies her library and information science skills as part of the Army Knowledge Leaders Program.