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The eBook Reader is the Tickle Me Elmo of this holiday season. From the Amazon Kindle to the Barnes and Noble Nook to the Sony Reader, there are several models to choose from depending on how you like your books. And with a battery life pushing 14 days, these little devices are hugely helpful for those who are always on the go.

Since the only reading I currently think about is reading days, I started thinking of eBook Readers in terms of college and finals. It sounds like a dream solution. After all, during reading days, lugging around my computer, multiple textbooks, paperbacks and bulk packs in search of a table near a power outlet is hardly an appealing prospect. And running through the airport on my way home for Thanksgiving break was less than pleasant considering I was housing a bookshelf on my back. Realizing that frustration and sore muscles aren’t ideal and not doing the reading simply isn’t an option, I decided to do some research about the hyped eBook reader. But I found that making the switch to digital books is just premature.

There are benefits, of course. eBook Readers would put those of us who have had to wait until midsemester to have books mailed to us out of our misery. Although not all books are available in Kindle Edition, those that are can be downloaded in 60 seconds.

And though tech blogs criticize Readers for being too expensive, voluntarily buying books for pleasure is very different from being mandated to buy specific books for class. According to an article from Slate, though eBooks are cheaper than print copies, the readers are so expensive that, “you’ll only make up the difference if you buy at least a dozen or so books a year.” The truth for us, though, is that the price of all the course materials we purchase for one semester would probably make the eBook worth it.

Having recognized the potential for the product with college students, Amazon is currently conducting a pilot project of its Textbook Edition Kindle at seven universities. Certain students in select courses received all their reading for the course on a Kindle. The aim is to compare the learning experiences of those using Kindles to those using conventional books.

Penn administrators and library officials are actively following the project. Vice Provost for Education Andrew Binns wrote that eBooks “are a very new technology, and it will be interesting to see the results of the pilot project. It is impossible to know, at this early stage, whether the proprietary Kindle model will prove to be enduring, so we will want to monitor closely the development of eBooks over the next few years.” In the meantime, the administration encourages professors to take steps to make their courses “cost-effective and technologically sophisticated.”

The pilot is not yet complete, but so far students have found the device to be difficult to use and, in general, a clunky substitute for a physical textbook. They report that a close reading (underlining passages and flagging pages) is compromised with the Kindle. Academic reading requires hours of concentration, and the eBook has been a distraction, not a helpful tool, in this area.

Penn alumnus David Weinreb likes his Kindle for being lightweight and a conversation-starter, but does not think it would be helpful for college students. “You can highlight and write notes, but honestly it’s more trouble that it’s worth,” he commented. For him, the Kindle is meant for fun and not work.

And I think this is what it boils down to. There is something oddly empowering about physically highlighting sentences and taking margin notes. You just feel like you’ve mastered the texts. So while I’m sure that future generations will be shocked to learn that books once came in paper, for now, I feel reading is best done via the suspenseful turning of yellowed, musty pages.

Rohini Venkatraman is a College senior from San Jose, Calif. Her e-mail address is

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