By Kim Walter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
In recent years, libraries have offered more options for patrons using e-readers, and while circulation was low at first, the new format is taking off.
Handley Regional Library, which includes facilities in Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties, reported that e-book downloads have risen from 1,435 to 12,614 in the past two years. The 779 percent increase is proof that the software has grown in popularity among readers.
Trish Ridgeway, director at the library, said that for some time most users of e-books were adults. Recently, though, she's seen the children and young adult selection downloaded more.
"It's cheaper in terms of labor cost, because people are checking out and returning books electronically," she said. "But e-books have gotten more expensive."
As vendors realize the popularity of e-books, they charge more to participating libraries, she said. However, Ridgeway isn't concerned with the growing usage.
"It's just one more format that we offer, just like books on CD and downloadable audio books," she said. Ridgeway owns an e-reader, but said she only uses it when traveling. "It's much better than carrying around ten books for a few weeks."
Handley Regional Library will offer classes in August to help readers understand how to use their various e-readers in conjunction with the library's software.
Samuels Public Library in Warren County is experiencing similar growth. Director Nicki Lynch said the e-book usage has gone from 644 downloads in 2011 to 5,675 this year.
"We're watching the whole industry because it has a lot of different restrictions on downloadable books and what's available from different publishers," she said. Lynch said she owns two e-readers, but still finds herself reading a traditional paperback or hardback book. She agreed that it was simply "another change in format" for readers, and isn't concerned with a negative impact on the library.
"Plenty of people come in and don't check anything out, and that's OK," she said. The library offers one-on-one training for visitors with e-readers, as there are a few extra steps to downloading the e-books from them.
Lynch said she hopes to eventually see access to e-books become unlimited so that more can be available to interested readers.
"E-books will keep taking off," she said.
Sandy Whitesides, director of Shenandoah County Library System, said that community members are still finding out that e-books are offered.
"Even if they do know, they might not know how to use it, because there's a lot of jumps and hoops when it comes to downloading e-books from the library," he said.
The library had only 12 e-book downloads in May 2011, but last month there were 703.
"It's essentially an extra branch for us when it comes to circulation," he said.
Whitesides said that publishers are making it more and more expensive for libraries to access e-books, which is why they aren't completely jumping into the new format.
"We're not committing a big part of our budget to e-books. A lot of publishers would rather go to Amazon...they're trying to hold onto as much revenue as they can," he said. "We're experimenting with it, waiting to see what the people are asking for."
The county also offers training for e-reader users, which has required significant staff resources, he said. He, along with the other library directors, is not concerned with the shift.
"It's an intimidating and exciting place to be, but it's neat that we're starting to be viewed as a technologically savvy place," he said. "We're just as concerned with technological literacy as we are with regular literacy."