Penn State initiative examines academic uses of Sony Readers

September 12, 2008

University Park, Pa. -- This fall, Penn State University Libraries and the English Department will begin a yearlong pilot project with student groups using the Sony Reader Digital Book, a portable electronic reading device that can hold books, audio files and other downloaded materials.

Sony donated 100 of the devices to the libraries for the project that will test the utility of e-books in a higher education environment. The study will explore the potential of the Sony Readers in a variety of settings, including the libraries' leisure reading program, undergraduate and graduate classrooms, academic research projects and as a service for people with disabilities. 

While the Sony Reader Digital Book can hold more than 100 complete electronic books, in addition to personal and work files in formats such as Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF and others, it was originally designed for the broad consumer market, not the academic user community. According to Robin Schulze, head of the Department of English, "We want to be at the front end of this new technology and to help Sony's technology team create a product that will be useful for how our students work with literature."

Schulze and Stuart Selber, associate professor of English and director of composition, will work with undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of English to study how the Sony Readers can be effectively used in a research environment as well as the impact of such devices on the practice and experience of reading itself.

Anne Behler, information literacy librarian, and Binky Lush, database specialist, are heading the libraries' initiatives. During this fall semester, five Sony Readers will be available for borrowing in the Libraries' Course Reserve Reading Room, 113 Pattee Library, West. The readers will be loaded with titles from five categories: best-selling fiction, best-selling nonfiction, science fiction and fantasy, "books that are movies" and award winners. Each reader will have up to 15 books in the selected theme and can be borrowed for a month. As part of this initiative, patrons will have the opportunity to participate in a survey intended to help the libraries and Sony understand how people use the Sony Readers.

Behler said, "The Sony Reader and e-books have the potential to change everything from book acquisitions to the way patrons interact with library collections. It’s very exciting for the University Libraries to be at the forefront of this new, largely uncharted territory.”

Behler also will use the Sony Reader in the Libraries' first-year seminar class, which is designed to help freshmen develop key information literacy skills. During the fall semester, Sony Readers will be used in this class to provide access to current materials, with the aim of creating a more dynamic and engaging environment. Later in the academic year other groups will work with the Sony Readers, including Susan Hayya, head of Library Services for People with Disabilities.

"Libraries are moving rapidly towards the day when the majority of our collections will exist in electronic form," said Mike Furlough, assistant dean of Scholarly Communications. "But while readers love the convenience of online search, they have been resistant to reading full-length books in electronic form. By the end of the year, we hope to have a much better understanding of the ways that our students and faculty will want to use e-books — and when they won’t, so that we can develop our collections to fit their needs."

For information, contact Anne Behler at (814) 865-9257.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009