The $50 e-book-capable tablet: When will the Harvard-hosted DPLA and friends care about hardware-related digital divide issues?

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imageThe right gizmos could help bring library e-books and other media to America’s poor and our cash-strapped middle class.

But at least publicly, the Harvard-hosted Digital Public Library of America has downplayed the hardware issue despite some nonhardware goodies envisioned for all kinds of libraries and their users.

Both scholarly and nonscholarly priorities count. I just don’t want to see nonacademics lose, whether the area is hardware or appropriate K-12 content, bestsellers and other popular reading fare (speaking of which, a very small poll shows a strong interest in bestsellers).

Actually the nonsubsidized price is higher, but someday $35 will be the true price, with or without middlemen involved.

We can’t separate the hardware issue from the national digital library issue, given the extent to which e-books will be replacing p-books in the world at large, even if library bureaucracies have been slow to catch on. Do we want the elite to enjoy e-books while many others must deal with oft-out-of-date paper books? This is in deepest digital divide territory.

As an example of tablet-related possibilities, here’s information on a $50—or $35, depending how you look at it—tablet computer. Thanks to Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader blog.

For techies, the specs aren’t bad: "7-inch Touch-screen. 2 USB ports. 32GB HD. 2 GB RAM. Video-conferencing facility. Multimedia content." Nate is going by a report in an Indian tech blog. It may or not be accurate, especially given the Indian government’s reputation for exaggeration in technical matters; but my guess is that it is.

Significantly, the Indian government is subsidizing the project even though the hardware will be manufactured by Hivision, located in the country’s arch-rival, China. Here in the United States, I’ve proposed a mix of tax breaks and outright giveaways to increase the tiny percentage of Americans (just five percent) who own tablet computers, which many people consider the optimal gadgets for enjoying both e-books and Web-browsing. I can even envision cost-justification. Kudos to the Indian government for going beyond the oft-myopic policymakers in D.C. and considering students’ total needs, not just the content-related ones that the India’s National Digital Library will help satisfy.

imageI’d love for the DPLA to develop open software that would let even computerphobes use the inexpensive, truly mass produced tablets. A major problem with the original One Laptop Per Child laptop was that it was more for hackers and their admirers in the world of education than for the world at large: software was the Achilles heel. Granted, Kindles and iPads exist. But the Kindle isn’t nearly as interactive as I’d like, and iPads are still far too expensive, despite the growing number of less expensive clones from China (I’ll be reviewing one of the clones along with the iPad 2 in the near future). Also, I suspect they are not as usable as they could be by people with disabilities.

The DPLA should not be in the hardware business. But it could join others in working toward appropriate hardware and software standards and help libraries align with other organizations to address hardware and connectivity issues and other digital divide challenges. And it could use focus groups and other techniques to evaluable the usability of different kinds of hardware and software.

Odds and ends: My latest comments on the DPLA Beta Sprint are still coming—later this week, most likely. On a different topic, I’m curious how the DPLA steering committee voted in private Monday on the issue of whether the organization should include the word “Public” in its name. Closed meetings are just one of the reasons why I believe that the DPLA so far does not merit the P. We really need two organizations—one for public libraries and the other for the scholarly variety.

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2 comments to “The $50 e-book-capable tablet: When will the Harvard-hosted DPLA and friends care about hardware-related digital divide issues?”
2 comments to “The $50 e-book-capable tablet: When will the Harvard-hosted DPLA and friends care about hardware-related digital divide issues?”
  1. David, some of us would rather just use a laptop or desktop. I’m very seldom around somewhere where a tablet would be useful. I suspect that eventually, we’ll see eyeglasses with computers built in that allow us to project a “monitor” onto a screen just for our eyeballs. Then we can be catnapping and tell the boss we are doing research. 😀

    • People should be able to use a variety of devices. But the tablet form factor—-for many people, not all—is great for reading books and long articles. And with the right keyboard arrangements, it can also be used if need be for creating, too. Plus, virtual keyboards can be used for some interactivity, including note-taking. I myself am partial to tablets and e-readers for enjoying e-books. As I see it, we should make it as easy as possible, in a number of ways, for people to read books. But if your fave for reading is a laptop or desktop, George? Absolutely! Thanks for your thoughts. David

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