Library introduces e-booksWhen Danielle Rice wants a book to read, the local mother of two no longer packs her kids in the car and heads to the library.
By: Jon Swedien, The Republican Eagle
When Danielle Rice wants a book to read, the local mother of two no longer packs her kids in the car and heads to the library.
Rice, and a growing number of other Red Wing Library patrons, now read library books on their computers, phones, iPads or other devices. Two weeks ago the Red Wing Public Library unveiled a new feature on its website allowing users to download e-books and audio books on-line.
"To get a book for myself, it's easy to do that at home," said Rice, who downloads e-books to her phone and reads them in electronic format.
Since Christmas there has been an increased call for e-books and audio books, librarian Randy Decker said.
"It's amazing how it's taken off," Decker said.
He added that downloading is pretty simple and can be done fairly quickly -- although audio books take longer. "There's a little bit of a learning curve but not a lot," Decker said.
And the service is available to most library patrons with Internet access. Although, Decker notes downloading from the library's website doesn't work for some devices, like the Kindle, because of publisher restrictions.
The Red Wing Library is not alone in the endeavor. It is a part of Southeastern Libraries Cooperating, a regional cooperative of 35 libraries that has contracted with an ebook vendor. That vendor, OverDrive, now provides SELCO with roughly a 1,000 online items -- a combination of e-books and audio books.
As of Tuesday, 800 of those items had been checked out by patrons of the Red Wing Public Library, Decker said.
E-books and the future?
So what do e-books mean for the future?
"No one knows," Red Wing Library Director James Lund said.
Lund said he attended a national conference for librarians last March and there was little discussion of e-books. But a month later the iPad was introduced and the paradigm changed. Lund recalls thinking, "The Genie is out of the bottle."
Questions abound regarding how the publishing industry will treat e-books, Lund said. What will become the preferred method among publishers in selling books? What will the value of the printed word become now that it's electronic and not printed on paper? What will happen to the value of library collections?
These are the questions Lund said he ponders most days on his 50-minute commute to work.
"That's the great debate -- what's this going to do to the reading process?" Lund said.
While, it's a change that came quickly, not everyone will be reading e-books tomorrow, Decker said.
"There's a lot of cultural inertia for the printed book and the library as a place," Decker said. "But it is changing more rapidly than people expected. It's going to be interesting to see in the coming years."
There's little denying e-books are handy, even for a book lover like librarian Pat Martin. While she certainly has an affinity for the printed word, in some situations, like riding the bus, it's just easier to bring an iPad or a laptop than lug a bunch of books with you, Martin said.
Libraries seek the right model
Lund does know one thing, however, and that is he wants libraries to control their electronic collections in the same way they control their printed collections.
That's not currently the case with SELCO's e-books.
SELCO paid a flat fee to OverDrive to setup the service and will pay an annual fee to maintain it. But if the relationship between OverDrive and SELCO ceased, the Red Wing Library and others would no longer have their collection of e-books.
"We're used to controlling our collection," Lund said, adding, "We could potentially lose our control and the onus is on the public library to regain it."
He also said libraries may need to redefine their role in the future.
Lund has always seen the library as a place that fosters lifelong education, in addition to a place that stores books for public consumption.
But if the influence of e-books continues, librarians might find their jobs become less about warehousing books and more about fostering community education, Lund said.
Considering all the potential implications of e-books, Lund said, "It's a fascinating time."