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Local libraries checking out eBooks

Libraries have caught popularity eBooks.  |  Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

Libraries have caught on to the popularity of eBooks. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 6, 2012 8:09AM



Local libraries are entering a new chapter, spurred by the rising popularity of electronic books and the growing number of devices on which they can be read.

Although paper books won’t disappear from their shelves anytime soon, many libraries already offer digital copies of some titles for free checkout. Others are planning programs in 2012.

The Lake County Public Library System has 4,171 eBooks on its list, and about 1,000 of them were checked out Friday.

“That’s a pretty good percentage,” said Mary Grogan, head of reference and circulation services for LCPL.

She said the eBook catalog consists mostly of adult books, although the more popular children’s books also are available and some reference books and nonfiction books are available through a different program.

Although readers can find Tom Brokaw’s “The Times of Our Lives,” and “The Tiger’s Curse” by Colleen Houck, not every book will be available in electronic version, Grogan said, because some publishers still aren’t on board with the library eBook programs.

At the Westchester Public Library in Chesterton, eBooks have been available for checkout for more than a year, Rhonda Mullin, serials and automation manager, said. The library goes a couple steps further, offering an introduction to eBooks class that talks about the different types of eReaders and how to access the library’s database, and providing technical help for those who don’t know how to use them.

“People will come in and say: ‘I got this for Christmas. What do I do with it?’ ” Mullin said.

She said there is a Sony eReader on display that library personnel use for demonstration purposes. There are technical help sessions from 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and 10 to 11 a.m. Fridays and, in January, another session will be added from 5 to 6 p.m. Mondays, Mullin said.

Mullin and Grogan said the checkout process for
eBooks is simple and free, with only a personal computer and library card in good standing needed. Patrons must live in the library district. With Lake County Library, a pin number also is needed.

Both libraries partner with the firm OverDrive, through which they buy a set number of digital copies of each book. The books can be checked out for a two-week period at a time just as with regular books.

Grogan said you can check out up to 10 items of any combination of audio and eBooks. When the time expires, they will be unusable.

“They won’t go away, though, so you will want to delete them,” Grogan said.

The Porter County Library System, Gary Public Library and Crown Point Community Library are planning to offer similar
eBook programs that will be compatible to their patrons’ eReaders, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry and other hand-held devices.

“It’s definitely an ongoing subject matter,” said Phyllis Nelson, assistant director of the Valparaiso Branch of the Porter County Library.

Nelson said the library hopes to have a program in place by March, but added it does have some concerns. For instance, although Amazon finally has allowed its books to be checked out at libraries, Nelson said the library does not like the fact Amazon tracks the books checked out by each person as a marketing device.

“We want to see if they are going to remove this data mining,” she said.

The Gary Public Library is acquiring an eBook service, but did not have a program set yet.

“We’re still looking at our options,” said spokeswoman Maria Strimbu.

Crown Point had hoped to have a program in place by the end of December, but is now looking at January, said Mary Harrigan, head of reference.

According to International Digital Publishing Forum, in collaboration with the Association of American Publishers, wholesale electronic book sales in the third quarter of 2010 totaled $119.7 million, more than double the approximately $45 million in sales just one year earlier.

And the Forum said the actual retail sales numbers could be as much as double that amount, due to industrywide wholesale discounts.



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