I just canceled my print subscription to the Wall Street Journal because I found that I was most frequently reading it on my iPad. The Journal’s iPad app is one of the best I’ve seen and, like the iBooks and Kindle apps, it provides a truly excellent reading experience. Many magazines and newspapers offer content for the iPad and I can begin to envision a library’s periodical collection being made available this way. Clearly this would be cool and convenient. Yet, I’m not sure that iPads deserve a place in the library.
While noted blogger and speaker David Lee King has recently talked about “quite a few uses for an iPad in a library setting,” I’m wondering if its multiple uses completely undermines its usefulness as a serious reading tool. After all, unlike Amazon’s Kindle, which in its simplicity provides a more traditional and intimate reading experience, the iPad is loaded with distractions: Safari, YouTube, iTunes, and of course the App Store. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, an author laments the Internet’s constant distractions and interruptions and asks, “Does the Internet Make You Dumber?” Perhaps the same could be asked of the iPad. Is the App Store just one more thing promoting a wide-spread turn toward shallow thinking?
Modern libraries are, of course, about much more than books. I’ve argued, in fact, that libraries should have widespread computers and technology. Yet, there is definitely a difference between technology for productivity purposes and technology for content consumption purposes. The Tech Guy Leo Laporte talks about iPads as replacements for entertainment tools, but not computers. I think he’s right. My iPad does a lot, but it’s a far cry from my laptop. That means that the iPad is not a computer but is much more than an ebook reader. And this, in my view, makes it an awkward fit for a library.
As an educational tool, the iPad’s potential is enormous. The number of apps in the App Store is growing at an amazing rate. But, I have to wonder if the educational tool can be justified as a library tool. Several questions need answering: Do libraries want to provide this type of entertainment tool, even if it has educational use? If so, will it be loaned or used strictly in-house? Would patrons be permitted to add content and apps? If so, what types? If not, how could that be prevented? What content will the library provide? Fiction books? If so, the iPad would amount to a really costly ereader. Could the iPad contain reference sources and act as a portable reference collection? The answer to this is, perhaps in the future, but not presently, as neither the iBooks Store nor the Kindle Store offer many reference titles. And one final question (from the Library Law Blog): Do prohibitions against lending the Apple software even allow for library usage?
Library mission statements often talk about meeting patron “recreational needs,” “promoting life-long learning,” and providing “access to modern technology.” Maybe in this language librarians can find support for iPad use. And maybe I’m just looking at this subject way too narrowly. As of right now, I’m really not sure. Besides, I’m on my iPad and I’m now distracted.