Kindle-ing Interests

book page

Recently the library I am associated with obtained several Kindle devices. As gifts they were meant to stimulate our interest in digital book devices and perhaps inquire as to the usefulness for our library. Being the curious techno-geek that I am, I decided to examine Amazon‘s new tool and make my personal thoughts known. (It should be noted that my opinions are not associated with my University but instead are my personal statements regarding my own experiences.)

To test out how users might utilize the Kindle I decided to do a few tests on the security and applicability of the Kindle. Issues regarding copyright, file security, maintenance, and usability were the basis of these experiments. Knowing that the Kindle could be checked out to patrons in an unregistered state, I contemplated what features would be available and just how hard it would be to alter the settings of the Kindle.

My first thought was, “What can I do if the reading material on the Kindle isn’t of interest to me?” To solve this problem, I wondered if I would be able to register the Kindle to my own account and then download content. With a few clicks I was logged in, using my Amazon.com account, and browsing titles. Using the Amazon.com One Click service, I purchased Bleak House by Charles Dickens for $0.99. In just a few seconds I was able to read the book and a message was sent via email about the purchase.


I then decided to try and download the book to my desktop. Using the USB cable I easily transferred the file to my computer. As would be expected with the secure file format, I was unable to open the file on my computer. The .AZW file format is only to be read on the Kindle device. Though a small number of non-proprietary file formats are readable on the Kindle, this particular format is meant to limit the access of the downloaded files. I then de-registered the Kindle from my account.

Even after unregistering the Kindle to my account the title I had purchased with my Amazon.com account still remained as an available selection. Though this may be reasonable for a personally owned Kindle, the question remains as to what the library should do with titles that were not purchased with library funds. According to the Amazon.com Kindle Terms of Use:

Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.

Restrictions. You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.

With these terms in mind, if a user were to register (as I did) and then leave the digital content on the Kindle, they would be breaking their agreement with Amazon. As such, by lending that material to the next user we are we not assisting in the distribution of illegally obtained digital content? Even though we are granted the ability to “view, use, and display” content we purchase; we are not permitted to share digital content obtained by our users. On that same note, it is possible to a user to download and capture any file stored on the Kindle for use on their own personal Kindle. Though I can’t say for certain if there are any means of keeping downloaded materials licensed to one Kindle or another, I wonder how long it will be before Kindle files are flowing through peer-to-peer networks.

Though I haven’t seen many “best practices” or “usage policies for libraries”, these questions may need to be asked if a permanent use is determined for the Kindle. Past these legal concerns on content, I also began to wonder if any security issues would arise through the borrowing of the Kindle.

In essence the Kindle is similar to a U3 drive. With this in mind what security issues could we find with the average circulation of such a device? Could an individual put malicious software on the device that could easily infect not only the library computers but the next borrower’s? Though this concern may be low on the list it should not be ignored if the safety of our user’s is a concern we keep.

Regardless of all the technical and legal issues, we must ask ourselves how viable the lending of an expensive electronic device truly is. Granted, libraries often loan books that are worth as much as a Kindle, but in some ways the Kindle is much more delicate than traditional texts. Throw the Kindle in your bag, as you would a book, and you may end up with more pieces coming out than going in. When something which could generate as high a demand as the Kindle goes into heavy circulation, would each borrower be comfortable with the rather costly replacement fee looming over their head at every page turn?

In my eyes, the Kindle is an interesting step forward in personal digital entertainment. One could argue that it aims to “re-invent the wheel” in reading technology. I don’t think this quite makes it that far, as its essence is still closely tied to the codex format. This device reminds me more of the Memex, the conceptual creation of Vannevar Bush, rather than competition for something like the iPhone. Will the users prefer the Kindle to their laptops and notebooks (physical)? Only time will tell, but we should certainly exercise our library muscles in testing out just what the Kindle can mean to our library and our profession.

  1. 02/18/2008 at 2:07 pm

    Don’t the terms of use explicitly forbid circulation of Kindles containing *any* purchased content? “Solely for your personal…use” seems to suggest one person, not whoever’s currently borrowing the device.

    Indeed, that seems to be what Amazon replied to direct questions: That libraries can only circulate empty Kindles. (See http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6530211.html?desc=topstory
    for the direct quote.

  2. 02/18/2008 at 2:14 pm

    But I think they have been flip-flopping on the topic. The concept is a bit blurry as the library as a user doesn’t really fit in to the personal use model. What will probably happen is that libraries will be given a new cost model that will inflate the price of titles according to their FTE. Thanks for the reference to the original statement. 🙂

  1. 02/18/2008 at 1:54 pm
  2. 02/18/2008 at 1:55 pm
  3. 02/19/2008 at 1:56 am

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