Should law libraries purchase Kindles?
With the drop in prices for e-readers, there is a lot of discussion about what role e-books and other electronic media will play in law libraries. Although e-readers have been on the market for a number of years now, it has only been recently where the prices on these units have dropped to a point where there is widespread appeal. There has even been movement by large legal publishers, notably WestLaw, to integrate e-readers into their products. For example, users of WestLaw Next can export all printable materials to their Kindle e-mail address. This is very convenient for reading long law review articles or cases – although the ability to annotate or make notes is still very rudimentary.
This column aims to answer two basic questions about these e-readers: should law libraries think about purchasing e-book/e-readers and how can we improve the experience of reading legal materials electronically?
For the first question, it seems that libraries would be well advised to wait until this nascent market further stabilizes. As e-ink based e-readers compete with multi-function devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers, we may find that e-readers will decline in popularity. This does not, of course, mean that there will also be a decline in electronic materials – just that these materials will be read with other devices.
Additionally, although legal publishers seem eager to integrate e-readers and smartphones into their services, they are notably less eager to actually produce e-book legal materials. WestLaw is experimenting with electronic casebooks but they are presently viewable only on computers and not mobile devices. Essentially these “e-books” produced by Westlaw are scanned copies of their print titles. As they are also protected by DRM technology, that are not exportable to any mobile device or e-reader.
Consequently, much of the value in using an e-reader for legal research is reading documents exportable from WestLaw Next and PDF documents. WestLaw has made exporting documents to a Kindle rather easy and straight-forward. Users just simply click on the Print icon and select “Send to Kindle” as the export option. They then enter the Kindle’s email address (remember, to use XXXX@free.kindle.com to avoid 3G network charges) and the document is sent wirelessly and automatically synced with the Kindle. I find the experience of reading law review articles or cases on the Kindle to be rather pleasant as long as you don’t need to make annotations or highlight text.
One of the nice features of the Kindle, however, is the ability to read PDF files natively. This is a great feature because you can send PDFs to your Kindle knowing that the formatting will remain the same. A problem, however, is the size of the Kindle screen (this applies to the Nook as well). The cheaper unit has only a 6” screen which makes the text of a PDF quite small and difficult to read. Fortunately, this problem can be alleviated by cropping out the margins from the PDF file. This gives more room for the actual text and will make it easier to read. Sadly, the Kindle or the Nook doesn’t do this automatically to PDF files. However, there is a tool called BRISS (yes, it is a circumcision joke) that will automatically crop the edges off the PDF file and make it much more appropriate for reading on an e-reader.
In summation, it appears much too soon for law libraries to seriously consider purchasing e-readers. Because this market is moving so quickly, it would be wise for libraries to wait and see where it goes. However, there is present value in using e-readers for legal research and librarians can help their patrons to improve the reading experience on these devices.