Technology has allowed us to take virtual libraries anywhere on our computers, phones and e-readers. While the majority of people still buy physical books, eBooks account for 14 percent of book sales. Libraries across the country have virtual checkouts, including eBook checkouts as part of a member’s book limit. However, sailors that serve on the U.S. Navy’s submarine fleet have been unable to participate in this technological advancement.
The U.S. Navy submarine fleet is a highly specialized division of the military. The technologically advanced submarines are designed to travel silently underwater at great depths. The trained crews spend months on a floating vessel that is barely longer than a football field. Security and space are tight, so there isn’t a lot of space to store things for sailors’ downtime – like books.
Due to security reasons, traditional e-readers are not allowed because they have WiFi and ports which can be used to transfer information. Two years ago, the U.S. Navy explored the idea of creating an e-reader that could be used on submarines. They reached out to Ohio-based Findaway World, which specializes in digital delivery of audiobook and eBook content. Together they developed a reader that met the Navy’s specifications. For example, in addition to not having WiFi or connecting ports, the reader could also not have a digital camera (so they can’t photograph the classified materials stored on submarines).
This week they unveiled the Navy eReader Device, or NeRD for short.
The first 385 NeRDs, at a cost of $3,000 each, are being delivered this week to the Navy’s submarine fleet. Each sub will receive five e-readers, which will be available for checkout from the library officer. The books will come with 300 preloaded titles, with a mixture of about 45 percent nonfiction and 55 percent fiction. These books are part of the Navy’s General Library Program, which has more than 100,000 eBooks available for downloads by service members and their families.
Due to the stealth nature of the NeRD, there are limitations. The titles come preloaded and cannot be added to or switched out since they can’t connect to the Internet. The choices include the professional development reading list, as well as public domain titles such as James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice” and William Shakespeare. The Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon are also included. Popular titles such as the “Game of Thrones” and “The Lord of the Rings” series, as well as “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” are also available. Several non-fiction titles are also available. Publishers both large and small are participating, including Simon & Schuster, Random House and Hachette.
Sailors wanting to read “The Hunt for Red October,” however, will have to watch the movie since Tom Clancy is not among the many choices.
An official with the Navy’s library program noted that this is a first run and that the sailors that will be gaining access to this first generation are requested to give feedback. The Navy seeks information as to how often the readers are used, the selection of titles, along with the technical functionality of the device. They plan on expanding the NeRD to the entire Navy fleet, but there is no rush since ships don’t have as much of an issue with space and more flexibility with WiFi and Internet access.