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Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 6: How to check out library ebooks

This is part 6 of my posts on how to read ebooks. Here I’ll get into how to check out ebooks from libraries that support that, and what you need to be able to do this. Basically, you will need two things: Adobe Digital Editions, and an account with the library of your choice (which must be set up to do ebook checkouts).

I mentioned ADE in my previous ebooks post, so will just briefly repeat here that ADE is supported on Windows and Mac computers. (Linux users, you’ll have to run it via WINE, I fear.) It supports both EPUB and PDF files, and the list of ereaders it supports is over here. The major ereaders I’m aware of that ADE supports are the nook, the Sony readers, and the Kobo.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: the Kindle is NOT supported by ADE, and to the best of my knowledge, that’s because of Amazon using its own proprietary DRM format. So right now, Kindle users aren’t able to use ADE to check out library books. This may change if the Kindle picks up EPUB support, though. Kindle users, if any of you are aware of alternate means through which you can check out ebooks, drop me a comment and let me know!)

Now, in order to be able to check out books from an ebook-capable library, you will of course need an account with that library. You’ll want to check out the website of your local library and see if they have a “Downloads” or “Digital” or “Ebooks” section, and if so, you should be able to follow their procedures for getting an account set up. (Some libraries may allow out-of-area access to users who want to check things out over the net as well, so even if you don’t live in the area of a library you’re interested in, find their website anyway. You may still be able to get an account.)

Once you have ADE set up on your computer and an account with the library you want to get content from, you’ll basically want to follow the library website’s directions for how to check out a digital book. You’ll want to look for either EPUB or PDF files, depending on what ebook format you’re better able to read.

What you’ll wind up downloading though will be a stub file, not that actual book. Once you’ve downloaded that file, you’ll want to open ADE and then doubleclick the stub file download, so that ADE can then open up the actual book with the timestamp on it that says how long you’re allowed to have it. (Note: On my system, I’ve had to be careful to open ADE first, otherwise I get error messages that claim I need to download an update I don’t actually need. Your mileage may vary depending on your system.)

Once ADE has the book, you can read it right there on your computer. However, if you want to copy it down to your ereader, you can also do that via ADE. If your ereader is plugged into one of your computer’s USB ports, ADE should see it (one more note: you may need to plug in the device first and then launch ADE; I have that problem with my nook). And if ADE can see it, you should be able to just copy the library book right down to the device.

And then you can read! You should be able to use ADE to delete the file off the device when you’re done with it, and you can also use ADE to “return” the book as well.

For the next post in this series, I’ll talk a bit about various technical differences between devices I’m familiar with, and how difficult it is to get books onto them.

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 5: How to read ebooks on your computer

Say you want to get into ebooks but you’re not sure what reading device you want to buy yet. Don’t worry, you’re not out of luck! If you’re reading this post at all you still have the ability to read ebooks right in front of you: i.e., on your computer. This post is all about your options for doing so, with a final addendum about the incredibly helpful ebook management program Calibre.

Readers, please feel free to drop comments on this post with your own recommendations for ereading clients!

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Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 4: Do you want a dedicated reading device?

This is the (overdue) part 4 of my series of posts on how to choose what you want in a reading device. This particular post’s topic: do you want a device that just focuses on reading books? Or do you want it to do other things as well?

I was pretty happy with my iPhone as a reading device until I got the nook and made a hugely important discovery. The fact that the nook focuses on being a reader, for me, means that it comes closer to the experience of reading a physical book.

The nook does actually have other functionality–it’s got rudimentary web access and a couple of games on it, for example, and you’re supposed to be able to listen to music and audiobooks as well. But since these functions aren’t as obvious as the reading functions, I can pretty much safely ignore them. I don’t have the impulse of “oh hey I’ll just check Facebook/Twitter/my email/whatever for a minute” to distract me from the book I’m reading.

The e-ink screen contributes to this for me as well. I see the e-ink, and it looks a lot more like a printed page to me. So I’m much better able to think of the nook as a “book-like thing” rather than a “gadget I can do various nifty things on”. If I open the nook’s cover, reading will ensue, just like with a printed book.

On the other hand, one of the reasons I resisted getting an ereader for so long was because I disliked the idea of carrying around multiple gadgets. I had already condensed the cell phone, iPod, and PDA I’d been carrying before into one iPhone, and I didn’t want to bump my gadget count back up–extra gadgets, of course, meaning extra things to have to keep track of so that they don’t get lost or stolen as you carry them around.

And there’s also the very real question of budget. If your finances are an issue, you’ll want to think seriously about the dedicated ereaders just because they’ll be significantly cheaper than an iPad or any smartphone that’s also capable of reading books.

In short, what do you need your device to do, and what are you able to spend? The answer to these questions for me was certainly “I want and can afford a dedicated ereader in addition to my smartphone”. For others, it’s a harder call.

But what about if you want to read ebooks even if you don’t have an ereader? Part 5 will be all about how to read an ebook on your computer.

Ebooks and Ereaders

Ebook postings now resuming!

Apologies for the hiatus on the ebook posts, y’all; they ran into a roadblock when Seattle got smacked upside the head with winter early last week, and then the holidays kicked in, so!

As of tomorrow I will resume the rest of the ebook posts, though! If you missed the previous ones, here are their links:

Come back tomorrow for Part 4: Do you want a dedicated reading device?

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 3: Touchscreen vs. e-ink

Here’s part 3 of my little series of posts about ebooks and ereaders! As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, this series of posts about how to read ebooks and what ereader you might want to get focuses on what reading devices I’ve had personal experience with: the nook and the iPhone.

The nook:

E-ink is pretty damned good overall for emulating the look of an actual printed page.

The big complaint I had initially about an e-ink device is the weird way that it refreshes the screen when you turn a page. I found this extremely distracting at first–but on the other hand, I quickly got over it, particularly after a couple of firmware updates for the nook made that screen refresh faster. I don’t notice it at all now.

A somewhat bigger complaint might be the lack of relative contrast though, depending on what reading conditions you want to read under. I find my nook to be sub-optimal for reading in less than direct sunlight, such as when I’m commuting to work on the bus during the winter, and the bus lights are likely to be turned down in between stops.

Of course, with the original nook, most of the device is an e-ink screen with a touchscreen section at the bottom. This is a bit confusing and I still occasionally catch myself trying to touch the e-ink section of the screen directly to tap pages. Fortunately this actually works, but only sort of.

If you’re interested in a nook (the original model thereof, anyway), I’d recommend going into a Barnes and Noble to handle one first to see if you actually like the interface and the e-ink/touchscreen combo. Ditto for if you’re interested in the new Nookcolor, which is all touchscreen–though I haven’t seen one of these yet myself.

The iPhone:

I definitely go over to reading on the iPhone in low-light conditions, since the phone actually can light the screen for me; in theory I could get a light to put on my nook, but in practice I’d find that a bit too much effort and it’d be just one extra little fiddly bit to have to keep track of.

The phone’s touchscreen is ideal for my reading speed, since I can pretty much just whip right through a book by tapping. Since the screen size is in fact small, I can build up quite the tapping speed as well as I glance at little chunks of page at a time and tap right on through to the next one. On an iPad, I suspect I’d slow down somewhat since it’d be more comparable to the nook in screen size. Now, what reading experience you’ll get on the iPhone or iPad will again depend on what app you’re using. Just about all of the ones I’ve played with, though, will let you configure whether you want to turn pages by tapping or swiping.

Other readers:

It’s worth noting that userinfoseattlesparks has advised me that the Kindle 3’s e-ink screen has really raised the bar on contrast. On my nook, the black text against a somewhat grayish background might be a problem for people whose eyesight is worse than mine. So if you have vision issues, you might want to consider either the Kindle 3 or a touchscreen device (an iPad or the Nookcolor) because of the clarity that a touchscreen can provide you.

Overall though I still prefer my nook as my primary reading device, and I’ll get into why in tomorrow’s post: do you want a dedicated reading device?

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 1: Ebook formats

Depending on where you get your ebooks from, they’ll come in several different and often proprietary formats. If you’ve been an ebook reader for a while, you’ll know as well that several formats that used to be in play have fallen out of favor. It can get pretty confusing pretty fast. So this post is about what formats are currently in favor, who sells what, and what devices you can buy that’ll read ’em.

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