A Kindle and a card: Library sees rising interest in digital titles

A Kindle and a card: Library sees rising interest in digital titles

Michele Ellson

Alameda Free Library patrons have an alternative to the traditional stack of books they can check out of the system’s three libraries: The library and more than a dozen others have partnered to offer titles that can be downloaded onto your Nook, Kindle or iPad.

Alameda’s library system is part of the Northern California Digital Library, which offers eBooks, audiobooks and music free of charge to patrons of the consortium’s partner libraries. Digital titles can be downloaded and used for up to 21 days; all users need is a device to read them on, and a library card and PIN.

The library has offered digital titles for years, and such offerings have become standard for libraries across the country. But the sudden rise of e-book readers has sparked growing interest in online titles.

“Really the rise of e-books is because of the rise of readers,” said Marlon Romero, a technology specialist for the Alameda Free Library. And the systems offering titles are becoming increasingly adept at serving all the different devices where media can be downloaded, local librarians said.

The online library offers local patrons around 2,700 digital titles, which is just a fraction of the more than 170,000-book print collection Alameda’s libraries hold. Alameda library patrons check out about 450 eBooks each month, compared to 46,000 physical books that go out the libraries’ doors monthly.

“I don’t think that will ever happen,” Supervising Librarian Annemarie Meyer said when asked whether digital books would ever replace the real thing. A Pew Internet & American Life Project survey released on April 4 showed that 72 percent of the adults surveyed had read a book in the previous year, and 88 percent of those who read e-books in the past 12 months had also read printed books. Parents reading to their children strongly preferred physical books to their digital equivalents, though preferences were evenly split among those reading to kids in bed.

But the study also pointed out the growing popularity of e-books and e-book readers, with the percentage of Americans who owned e-book reading devices or tablet computers like iPads or Kindle Fires nearly doubling over the most recent holiday season. The number of Americans who read an e-book also grew, from 17 percent to 21 percent.

OverDrive, the Cleveland-based digital distribution that powers the Northern California Digital Library, said its sites saw 35 million digital titles checked out in 2011.

The local library budget holds about $5,000 a year for e-books, though more money could be put toward them if the Measure C sales tax measure passes. Library Director Jane Chisaki said the budgeting would depend on other items the tax would cover, including a second elevator in the main library and new computers, and while she couldn’t say how much money would go toward e-books if the measure passes, she said there’s “great confidence” some money will be available for digital titles.

More money for e-books – especially ones that are dedicated specifically to Alameda library patrons – could spell relief to e-book users who can face lengthy waits for popular titles.

“You’re going to see that a lot of the popular books have like 40 people on the wait list,” Romero said. That’s because the system can only lend out as many titles as participating libraries buy or rent, he said.

A bundle containing all three novels in Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” series has a wait list of 91 patrons, for example, while 90 are waiting for their chance to read one of five copies of Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.”

Even with more money, libraries face challenges from publishers that have been loath to allow their titles to become available for free downloads in the same way patrons visit their local libraries to check out books. Four of the country’s six biggest publishers are refusing to make their e-books available to libraries, with Penguin saying recently that they will no longer offer e-book titles to libraries, according to a recent paidContent piece.

HarperCollins only allows their e-books to be checked out 26 times before a library has to buy a new copy, the piece says. And Random House raised its e-book prices in March, with titles available in print as hardcovers selling for between $65 and $85, an article on Connecticut’s theday.com about libraries there boycotting Random House over the price hikes said.

“It’s a pretty hot-button topic,” Meyer said of publishers’ restrictions.

Still, there are some changes taking place that are helping boost access to e-books: Meyer said Amazon recently opened up their Kindles to library e-books, which she said “pretty much doubled our e-book circulation.”

“Basically, we love having the e-books,” she said.

Anyone interested in learning more about the library’s digital offerings can visit the Alameda Free Library’s website. Digital titles are available to local library patrons through the Northern California Digital Library. The library also offers training on how to use the digital library on all the different devices it serves, the second Monday of each month between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Anyone with questions can also call 747-7709.


Submitted by knealy on Thu, Apr 12, 2012

I tried using Overdrive with this system. The problem is the long wait for books and the two week loan period. It can be that when the book becomes available it's not a convenient time to read it. I understand that this loan period is long established for physical books, but the simple fact is that there are so many other ebooks available that I can download and keep indefinitely and read at my leisure, that this system is too cumbersome and inconvenient for me at present.