Last year will be remembered by many as the year of the e-book.
Chances are, if you didn’t purchase an electronic reader (e-reader) for yourself in 2011, you received one for Christmas or know someone who did.
An e-reader, is a small, stand-alone device designed for the display of content, such as e-books, periodicals and documents.
Top e-readers in the current market are Amazon.com’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook, though many other e-readers and tablet computers also have similar e-reading capabilities.
While some might suspect the surge in e-book popularity marks the future demise of libraries, local libraries see things a little differently.
Embracing the change
While e-books are available for purchase online at a variety of prices, many small-town libraries are offering big-city access to free e-books through various online loaning programs.
Carson City Public Library and its branch in Crystal both offer access to e-rentals for their library card holders. They are part of the Lakeland Library Cooperative, which includes several other libraries across the mid-Michigan area.
Though they don’t have an exact number on how many local residents are using the program, Library Director Beth O’Grady said they have had a lot of interest, especially since the recent holiday season.
“(E-books) are very popular right now,” O’Grady said. “It’s still a fairly new form of book, but it’s picking up popularity quickly.”
O’Grady said the big thing about e-books is that they don’t take up shelf space, giving the library opportunity to offer more copies of a particular title to more people.
“They (e-books) also very easily transported,” she said. “You can take one device with you with as many books as you want on it.”
Users of the online e-book libraries can browse through hundreds of titles online, selecting books that interest them. Once the set loan time has expired (usually one or two weeks), the title disappears off their reading device.
“There are no overdue fines with an e-book,” O’Grady said. “When your time is up, it’s just gone.”
If an e-book has already been “checked-out” by another reader, users can place a hold on the title. They will usually receive an email when the book is available.
Helping people embrace change
Stanton’s White Pine Library has offered e-books to its patrons since November and has had about 60 library card holders register to loan e-books.
“I think (an e-reader) was the gift everyone got for Christmas,” said White Pine Library Director Katie Arwood.
The library purchased a Nook and Kindle to keep at the library for demonstrations on how to use the online loan program, and has printed instructions for everyone to take home once they register.
“It’s been going great,” Arwood said.
White Pine Library is part of the Up North Digital Collection Cooperative, and allots part of its annual budget to purchasing e-books for the system.
“Each library (in the cooperative) gets to pick books to add,” Arwood said. “But they are available to everyone else (in the cooperative) as well.”
O’Grady said she doesn’t personally own a e-reader yet, but is trying to learn more about them to help her patrons. She said some not-so-tech-savy patrons get frustrated with the e-reader at first.
“Once people learn how to use their device, it can be very convenient,” she said. “We tell our patrons to keep trying until you get it down.”
Kelly Mills, 46, who lives between Crystal and Stanton, purchased a Nook tablet shortly before Christmas. She said she had been trying to read books on her iPod, but wanted a bigger screen to read the words.
Though she used to be a big reader, Mills admits she “doesn’t go to the library” anymore.
“I haven’t borrowed a book from there in a quite a long time,” she said. “When I got the Kindle application for my iPod I started reading again. I have rented two books so far and I do love that I can get books from the library.”
O’Grady says e-books are just another way that libraries can meet the literary needs of their communities and isn’t a sign of the disappearance of the printed word.
“I don’t think the printed book will ever go away,” she said. “You’ll never be able to trade the experience of turning the pages of beautiful pictures in a printed children’s book.”
But while she’s confident that printed books won’t disappear anytime soon, she’s also confident that the e-book won’t be going anywhere either.
“It’s exciting,” O’Grady said. “Digital and electronic ways of doing things are the way of the future.”
For more information on how borrow e-books in your community, contact your local library.
Correspondent Jessica Beery is a Sheridan resident.