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Library Director Ramona Burkey first bought an electronic book a few years ago, but no one seemed too interested in checking it out.
Then, the market exploded with e-book readers such as Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and the Apple iPad, which set up a whole new market for book enthusiasts. For those who aren’t familiar with e-readers, they are small devices, around the size of a paperback book, but very thin and portable. The devices have storage space so an owner can hold dozens of books in one single device.
Seeing this wave coming full steam ahead, Burkey and other library directors began purchasing e-books and making them available to the public. For a fee, between $3 and $25 for most releases, Burkey explained, the Cheshire Public Library and around 25 other libraries have a consortium of titles that the public can “check out.” When a title is downloaded, it is put on a person’s device and then, 14 days later, it is returned automatically. Since this technology is relatively new, and being right after the holiday season, Burkey decided to hold a workshop for the public, free of charge, to go over the devices and the procedure for checking out electronic books.
Around 30 people attended the Technology Petting Zoo on Jan. 3 at the Cheshire Public Library. More than half of the audience had received e-readers as gifts in recent weeks and were eager to learn how they could check out e-books.
“That’s why I scheduled this for today,” Burkey explained. “There are a lot of titles available to Cheshire library card holders.”
It was March 2006 when Burkey purchased the first e-book and first audio book, but they never got much use. Now, with an explosion of technology on the market, residents are downloading audio books onto their MP3 players and e-books onto their readers. Burkey explained that e-readers have been on the market for around a decade, but “never really caught on.”
“There were a lot of different formats and there was not a lot of selection,” Burkey said, noting one title that stuck out was a book on raising parakeets. “Now, there is a format that plays on virtually every device.”
The file format, called EPUB, plays on most e-readers, except Amazon’s Kindle, which has it owns proprietary e-books. According to Burkey, in November 2010 there were 30 e-book checkouts. The following month, in December 2010, there were more than 70. Checking out electronic media is very similar to doing so with physical copies on the shelf. A patron can put a book in their cart but, if they don’t check out in 30 minutes, it goes back to the virtual shelf and someone else can grab it. Audio books are available for seven days and e-books can be checked out for 14 days. Unfortunately, for those wishing to try before they buy an e-reader, the Cheshire Public Library does not loan devices.
Cheshire resident Kirsten Canfield never knew the library had a selection of e-books that she could check out for free. From the newest Nora Roberts to classics like War & Peace, there is quite a selection available. Canfield purchased a Sony Reader because it is compatible with many formats and doesn’t cause much eye strain.
“I think I’m going to try and check some of these books out,” Canfield said. “I never knew I could do that here.”
Even though it’s a digital file, there are not endless numbers of copies available, Burkey explained. This has actually caused some mild rifts between library directors, as not every group in the consortium is buying all the best sellers, even though they are the most popular. To check out a book, patrons need to use their library card number and, in some cases, a computer, if their device cannot connect to the library’s Web site. Since there is a digital signature, the system automatically knows when the time is up and the e-book is returned. Users can also put an e-book on hold and it will be e-mailed automatically when it is digitally returned.
Jack Bush was still learning the ins and outs of his new e-reader but, so far, he has loaded two books onto it and he has found the text to be very easy to read. He said it “did a pretty good job” of simulating an actual book, and wasn’t very heavy so it was easy to hold. He hoped to fill his new device with dozens of books as a way to clear some space in his home.
“I can get rid of all the books on my shelf and put them all onto my e-reader,” Bush said. “I think this could possibly be the future, and people need to embrace technology. I don’t think these will replace libraries, however.”
For more information on electronic books, visit www.cheshirelib.org or call (203) 272-2245.