imageImagine—under-$100 tablets for libraries. Suppose they can display public domain books and other free content and run library e-book apps from companies such as OverDrive. That day isn’t here yet. But it’s fast approaching. Who says iPads, Kindles, Nooks and Sony Readers will be the only games out there?

The eight-inch Android tablet shown to the left sells now for $143.10 at Amazon. $100 in a year or so? With better than the current 800-by-400 resolution? And more than one user review at Amazon, so a purchase is less of a gamble?

You can even plunk down $124 for a rather problematic seven-inch Android tablet passing itself off in a photo as an iPad clone (I wonder about the 720p in the display-related specs, if nothing else). What’s more, there’s also the seven-inch Pandigitial Novel, an Android-based color ebook reader on sale at some places for less than $150 with special offers included. Again, a flawed machine—but a hint of better things to come. Same for the $199 Cruz Reader.

imageAnd now a question for library geeks out there: Are any of you experimenting with super-cheap Android machines, given their low costs and the forthcoming software from a major library vendor like OverDrive?  Here’s a chance to stay ahead of your users. If I were a public librarian, I’d think about such angles as:

–The greater demand that the new tablets will create for e-books. Will library budgets be ready? Will people be able to borrow a wide variety of books in E, not just the genre novels and other typical e-book fare? And will your tech support be up to snuff.

–Possible retaliation from certain publishers, fearing that their business models are more threatened than ever. Will some just stop making their books available to libraries or insist on library-hostile terms, if e-books are finally easy to check out with OverDrive’s new software? Should librarians and vendors such as OverDrive try harder to pick up books from smaller, more flexible publishers?

–New business opportunities, at least in cases where the law allows and resources are available. Could certain libraries work directly with vendors and distributors or with retailers so that library visitors can easily buy Android machines on the spot. The libraries could turn at least small profits. When the price goes below $100, the hardware will be fodder for impulse purchases, at least in affluent areas.

I’m also curious what the extra-cheap tablets will mean for libraries’ relationships with school systems, if more students can download e-books and other content directly. If fewer students show up at the libraries, could this hurt the quality of their work—since professional research guidance will no longer be within a few feet of them? Could public librarians fill in the gaps remotely? Public librarians are not school librarian substitutes, and vice versa, but the firings of school librarians will not help matters.

image Reminder: I’ve focused on Android tablets, but Android phones are likewise worthy of attention.

And finally: At least one well-known library blogger—Sarah (“Librarian in Black”) Houghton-Jan, the Digital Futures Manager for the San Jose Public Library—is already Android-hip. I’ll welcome Sarah’s thoughts on the above issues.

Update, 11:40 a.m.: A librarian friend of mine observes that users tend to prefer their own hardware, not the library-chosen variety. True! But as I myself see it, library-related options should be available in cases where there’s sufficient local interest. What’s more, Android tablets’ economies can boost e-book use no matter who owns or recommends the machines.