E-volution sweeps through library system
The e-reader vs. physical book copy has quickly become one of the biggest controversies among readers. Since their debut a couple of years ago, e-readers have generated a lot of debate as some readers have rushed to embrace them, while others have staunchly defended their old printed friends. But no one can deny that e-readers such as iPads, the Nook and the Kindle have attracted a lot of attention.
In 2011, 132,000 books were downloaded through the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System’s Downloads 2 Go service, which allows users to borrow e-books. Carol Batt, the deputy director for the system, says that this year, downloads have risen 143.7 percent over where they were last year.
The system has offered e-books since December 2009, but it wasn’t until the rise of the tablets that their circulation really took off. Although they don’t maintain data on who uses e-books the most, Batt says that based on the titles downloaded, e-book downloading seems to cut across demographic lines, with adults, teens and children equally interested.
Any new technology can present a challenge to its users, however, and the library system has stepped up to aid its patrons. They regularly offer free Downloads 2 Go courses at their branches to teach patrons how to use the system. The library currently does not offer e-readers for people to borrow, but Batt said that pilot e-reader lending programs are under way in some libraries around the country.
“Right now, we’re waiting for things to stabilize,” Batt said, explaining that they would have to work out funding and logistics, and determine which type of e-reader to buy.
More immediate plans include a “technology petting zoo,” where patrons who are considering buying an e-reader can try several different kinds and learn how they are regarded. There are two technology petting zoos planned for the summer, although dates and locations haven’t been decided.
For those who already have e-readers, the system is offering “e-reader open labs” at several locations during the summer. Unlike the more structured Downloads 2 Go classes, the open labs will allow anyone with a device to bring it in and get assistance with it.
Batt, and technology trainer Kara Stock, believe that most patrons are using e-books in addition to audio and print books, rather than as a replacement.
“I typically have an audio book going in my car at all times,” Batt said. She noted that physical book circulation and library visitation are still strong.
“Part of me hopes that we always have a physical book, and I think we will. Libraries need to remain relevant and be where our users are. In spite of our downloads, people are still coming into our physical buildings,” Batt said.
“I think they’ll both continue to be important,” Stock added.
Both Batt and Stock have joined the e-reader revolution, Stock enthusiastically and Batt somewhat reluctantly.
“[My iPad] was a gift. I do use it quite a bit. In terms of e-books on my iPad, I really enjoy borrowing cookbooks from the library collection,” Stock said. At home, she props up her iPad in the kitchen and scrolls through recipes to find things to try. But she also prefers to read fiction the traditional way.
Batt also has an iPad. “I got into the e-book reading a little more reluctantly than many. I debated about that, and I just like the multipurpose functionality of the iPad,” she said.
“We’re along for the ride. We’re thrilled to be here. The training classes we’ve provided have not just been well attended, but well received, and we’re very pleased to offer that to people in Erie County.”