A few thoughts on eBooks

A student in one of my classes has started bringing a funny little book to class — her Kindle. She loves it, and I can see the allure (especially given the weight of most students’ backpacks), but we’ve come across a problem. Her Kindle editions don’t include the original page numbers! So how can she cite her source?

If I had known before she bought her device, I might have recommended against the Kindle, and not just because the name sounds too much like my own (and makes no sense — though the iPad name has been criticized as well). I would have recommended an iPad because it does so much more than a Kindle and because I’m an Apple fan, though I do like the e-Ink screen on the Kindle.

Page numbers are the biggest issue, though, when reading books in an academic setting. They are a feature that should be possible to turn on or off, in my opinion, depending on how and why you want to read. When searching for a solution, I came across a GoodReads post that suggested book clubs might want page numbers so everyone can know if they are on the ‘same page.’

That search led me to what may be the solution (or a partial solution) for Kindle owners. The eBook format by ePub does include original page numbers. It is the format used by Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the iPad, and several other e-Readers. Naturally, the Kindle doesn’t support it, but there may be a work around.

Fortunately there is an ebook management program called Calibre The software is open source and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and it will convert your ePub eBook file to the MOBI format that the Kindle will read.

I haven’t tried this, but here is how I assume it should work. If you want to read a book for academic purposes (or to have page numbers that correspond to an original print version), BUY the ebook in ePub format or another format that has original page numbers. Keep a copy of that formatted file on your computer. You can use Calibre to read it as a reference for when you need the page numbers. Convert the file to a copy in MOBI format and sync this with your Kindle. Now you can read the book anywhere on the device of your choice (the one you own) and still have access to page numbers.

If you haven’t bought the ePub version of the book, then I recommend you either do that, buy a cheap used copy in print, or borrow someone’s print copy when you are ready to look up the page numbers. This will be painful, but it’s what you need to do in order to properly cite the page in a paper. (On an exam, I may allow references to chapters, though that is only useful when the chapters are relatively short.)

If you don’t own a Kindle, then I would recommend against it for use in college or any other setting where knowing what page you are on would be useful. Look into other readers like the iPad, the Nook, etc. that do give you access to the original page numbers (not the page of the book when you’ve formatted it for viewing on your screen — some formats will give you this number based on the words that fit on a screen as formatted, not based on the original page number from another physical edition of the book).

If you like the Kindle best as a reader, then you should look into ways to access the page numbers from a standard edition and then purchase a ebook formatted with that information so you can access it somehow — even if you read it on the Kindle or other device that doesn’t support page numbers. I will agree that finding the page number on an electronic format of the book is probably easier than locating it in the physical book (which is why I want the true page number in your papers!) because you can search for the quoted passage.

For better or worse, eBooks will likely become a part of academic life more and more in the near future. Dealing with the issues of citation is something we will have to do. It may be that someday eBooks will be so ubiquitous that we don’t need to reference pages anymore, but for now when the printed book is the standard format, it still is a necessary requirement. So before you buy your eBook reader or at least before you buy your next eBook file, look into the format and whether it has all the information you need, like page numbers, especially if you need to use the book for a class.

Depending on where you buy your eBook file, though, there may be DRM (Digital Rights Management) software that keeps you from converting the file to another format or from playing it on another type of player. I haven’t tried this or researched it enough yet to know for sure. Do look into that before you spend money on an eBook or a reader. If I learn more, I may post a follow-up here.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: