Libraries Promote Use of E-books


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if you ride the train or the bus to work, you have seen people reading books on electronic devices of various kinds.

Libraries are adapting to the trend by not only offering downloads, but also instructing patrons on their use.

However, libraries are finding that providing books in electronic form brings with it some unexpected challenges.

You can find several examples of libraries, small and large, embracing the trend.

According to a recent article, Chicago Public Library patrons are downloading nearly twice as many e-books, audio books, videos and music than they did a year ago.

In the article, Chicago Ald. Marge Laurino (39th) is quoted about her Kindle ownership. She says, “When the book is due, you don’t have to worry about bringing it back. It disappears."

The Lake George Public Library in Colorado is celebrating e-books this month by entering names in a drawing for "wonderful" library prizes every time someone uses a library card to download books. On its website, it also tells patrons that if they don't know how to download, they can stop by the library for a short lesson.

And many libraries are helping people navigate hitherto uncharted e-book waters. The Montgomery County-Norristown (Pa.) Public Library's computer lab is holding ongoing programs teaching people how to borrow e-books and get them onto their Kindle, Kindle Fire or iPad. These lessons promise to come in handy when holiday gifts are exchanged and e-books are prominent among the presents.

Libraries are riding an overwhelming wave. E-book usage is up, particularly among younger Americans, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Pew Internet & American Life Project and recently reported by Reuters news service.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project's study on the rise of e-reading. one out of every five Americans has read an e-book in the past year.

The report states, "This number increased following a gift-giving season that saw a spike in the ownership of both tablet computers and e-book reading devices such as the original Kindles and Nooks."

According to a Pew study of libraries, patrons and e-books, libraries offer a number of online platforms for e-book lending, such as TumbleBooks, NetLibrary, and Project Gutenberg.

The most common one, however, is OverDrive, the largest distributor of e-books to libraries.

On OverDrive's blog, the Digital Library Blog, Cindy Orr, library consultant for OverDrive, writes, "Our library patrons are just like everyone else: they want e-books. They cast their vote for e-books every time they check out EPUB, PDF and Kindle titles from your digital collection—and they’ve done so millions of times this year across the OverDrive network."

But she also notes, "Library e-book lending is a new frontier, and the landscape is far from settled. The service is not perfect. There are technical challenges, and not all publishers are on board with the plan (yet). But that doesn’t mean we should give up on library e-books altogether, as some have suggested. Our patrons love e-books. That much is clear."

Unfortunately, most libraries don’t have a choice in whether or not they can offer recent e-book titles from Hachette or any e-books at all from Simon & Schuster, Macmillan or Penguin Group USA. Last year, Penguin Group USA halted digital sales of new e-books to libraries, while another major publisher, HarperCollins, put a 26-time borrowing limit for libraries. 

As of November, 2011, of the "Big Six" publishers, only Random House allowed unrestricted access to its books through e-lending.

Then in March, 2012, Random House drastically increased the prices of its e-books. 

Debra Oberhausen, manager of collection services at the Louisville (Ky.) Free Public Library, said at the time, "We're very concerned. We want to provide this service, but this kind of pricing is really going to take a huge chunk of our budget."

On Feb. 29, Oberhausen noted she had bought Eisenhower in War and Peace, by Jean Edward Smith, for $40; on March 1, the price was $120. (The print version of the book, with the library’s discount, is a little over $20; it retails at $40). For Blessings, by Anna Quindlen, the e-book price went from $15 to $45.

The American Library Association (ALA) immediately called on Random House to reconsider its decision, with Molly Raphael, at the time ALA president, saying, "In a time of extreme financial constraint, a major price increase effectively curtails access for many libraries, and especially our communities that are hardest hit economically."

“We believe our new library e-pricing reflects the high value placed on perpetuity of lending and simultaneity of availability for our titles,” said Stuart Applebaum, a Random House spokesperson. “Understandably, every library will have its own perspective on this topic, and we are prepared to listen, learn, and adapt as appropriate,” he said.

This year, ALA and publishers have been engaged in discussions. And in the meantime, the e-lending environment has been evolving.

Penguin brought e-books back to the New York Public Library under a pilot program in conjunction with one of OverDrive's competitors, 3M.

And it was just announced that all libraries who do business with 3M will have full access to the Penguin catalog.

Libraries themselves are engaging in advocacy efforts. The State Library of Kansas is using social media to protest the stance of major publishers.

According to the Associated Press article, the state librarian, Jo Budler, said the library needed to explain to the public why such books as the new novel from "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling were not available in the electronic format.

How will this saga plays out remains to be seen. But Orr, in the OverDrive blog, sounds an optimistic note.

She writes, "As it is, the future looks bright for libraries. With many bookstores closing, libraries are perfectly positioned to become the primary showrooms for publishers, the first place readers go to discover books. We can meet this challenge by providing our patrons with the e-books they want and love and use."



Teen using e-reader at Myrtle Grove Middle School in Wilmington, North Carolina, by librarian Jennifer LaGarde.

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