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e-Reader and e-Book Overview

Thinking of reading more e-books in 2014? Maybe you got a new e-reader or smartphone as a gift this holiday and need an app to read all your favorite books on. This post provides an overview of some of the most popular applications (apps) for accessing digital content. There are more options than you think!


Girl looking at a tabletFor e-reader fans who are looking for a stand alone device for all their reading needs the choices can be limitless. There are many devices to choose from. When trying to make a decision about which to buy it is important to keep mind the differences between e-readers and tablets. An e-reader is a device specific for reading books or periodicals. E-readers typically rely on electronic or e-ink to display text on a screen. Unlike tablet devices e-readers have screens that do not produce a glare when in direct light. In addition e-readers are designed to be light and portable as well as have extended battery life. Most e-readers can store hundreds if not thousands of titles. Popular e-readers include the Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and Kobo. The 2014 Best eBook Reader Reviews and Comparisons post provides an overview of features and reviews of some of the most popular devices. Keep in mind that unlike tablets e-readers do not typically provide access to a range of games or other applications for other purposes.

Tablets are another option for individuals who are not interested or able to purchase an e-reader device for reading alone. Tablet devices perform a wide range of tasks and users can customize a tablet with apps for various activities including reading. Tablet devices tend to be heavier than e-readers and typically have backlit screens with full color displays. The backlit screen typically means shorter battery for the device. Viewing a tablet screen can be difficult in sunlight or other environments where light causes a glare on the reflective screen surface. To read on a tablet users will either need to have access to an online collection of materials or a specialized app for reading. Apps and content providers are described below.

Free Apps

There are a number of free reading apps available for tablet devices. It is import to consider that a free app does not mean that the content is free. Once a free app is downloaded users may need to purchase content to read. Another consideration for app users is the content that the app is able to access. Some apps are specific for licensed content while others allow users to read any digital format as long as it is supported. Two free apps are described below. The Very Best Book Apps: Our Top 15 Picks post from iLibrarian provides an good overview of other apps to consider.


The Kindle app is available on Android, iPhone, iPad, Mac, PC, and Blackberry. Access your book collection no matter what your device. The app is free to download and install. Books can be purchased through the app or PDFs can also be read on the app. Take advantage of some of the app features such as note taking, highlighting, and quick definitions.


Scribd is a digital library, featuring a subscription service with premier books including New York Times bestsellers and classics. The app is free to download but a $8.99 monthly subscribtion fee is necessary to access content on tablets and smartphones. The subscription fee providers users with unlimited access to more than 100,000 books from over 900 publishers, including Harper Collins, Rosetta, and Workman.

Paid Apps


Marvin is currently $2.99 and available only for Apple iOS devices. Marvin does not sell e-books but rather provides a rich interface for interacting with them on tablet devices. Marvin can’t open EPUB books with DRM (iBooks and Kindle books), but it provides a bundle of free e-books to get you started and other DRM free book sources are available. The app features links to to public domain catalogs such as Project Gutenberg. Users can add books from Dropbox as well as other sources. The app provides a specialized layout which helps users organize, annotate, and share readings. Several built in features include a reading timer, a dictionary, customizable high-contrast themes, large text and bottom-heavy font to assist readers with dyslexia.


You can visit sites such as or Barnes and Noble to purchase and download a variety of books and other digital content. These sites often have feature titles at a discount or for free. Watch for deals.

There are several other sites to try for free content. Many of the books in these collections are out of copyright. Internet Archive offers access to over 5 million e-books and had organized collections of materials. Project Gutenburg offers over 40,000 free e-books to choose from.

The e-Books and Digital Library Projects post provides additional information on free access to e-books from other sources.

Free Apps and Content

Woman with ereader in libraryCheck with your local library to find out if they participate in an program like Overdrive or ebrary.


OverDrive currently has the largest selection of digital media available for lending. OverDrive began with e-book and audio content and has recently started providing audio and movie content as well. Libraries that participate in OverDrive provide users with access to the content through a digital interface. Items can be checkout and downloaded to a device for a limited amount of time before they are automatically returned the library’s OverDrive lending collection. Users can place items on hold and receive notification when items are ready for downloading or viewing. OverDrive e-book content can be accessed on tablet devices using the OverDrive app or on e-reader devices.


ebrary is an online digital library of over 70,000 scholarly e-books. This resource for academic e-books is most readily available through academic libraries. The library also includes sheet music and government documents.

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