Library starts offering e-books to patrons

pramati@macon.comNovember 18, 2012 

Martha Goodrich gets a lot of good use -- maybe too much good use -- from the Nook reader she received from her husband.

Goodrich downloads so many books to the device that “my husband said he was going to cut me off from the credit card,” she said.

But a new e-book program for Middle Georgia Library patrons that was introduced last week should eliminate some of those issues.

“It’s a lot cheaper to check out books this way,” said Goodrich, who took a class last week that the Washington Library offers to teach patrons how to download e-books. “I think it’s a good feature for this library to have.”

Thomas Jones, director of the Middle Georgia Regional Library, said the process to check out an e-book is relatively simple for patrons. They simply need to have a library card, set up an account and download an app to their device.

Patrons are allowed to check out up to three books at once, and they can keep each book 14 days.

The library currently has 659 e-book titles, and the system works just like it does with traditional books. Patrons can only check out a copy of the e-book if it’s available. As of now, Jones said, the library mostly has one copy of each e-book in stock.

“We may start buying multiple e-copies of some books,” he said. “For example, if Stephen King came out with a new book, I know we would need multiple copies of that.”

The e-books work on a variety of platforms including computers, tablets (including the Nook, the Kindle Fire and the iPad), and smart-phones such as Android devices and iPhones. They also work on the iPod Touch. The e-books are available in a variety of formats as well, including epub files, Blio and PDFs.

Jones said the library must purchase e-books the same way it purchases regular books, and the prices are set by the publisher.

Library patrons have clamored for e-books to be offered for a while, especially once the Houston County library started offering them.

“This is definitely a result of patrons demanding e-books,” Jones said. “I think they are going to have very good usage.”

Jones said the service may expand to include e-editions of magazines.

Jones, who was in charge of the library’s technology before becoming director five years ago, said e-books were something he has considered adding for a while, but the books were too expensive until recently. The prices started falling because so many other libraries began adding e-books to their collections.

“With more libraries signing on, it’s going toward a stabilization of pricing,” he said.

Jones said publishers have been slow to embrace the technology for libraries, because they think it will cut into their profits. However, Jones argues that by making the books more available on a new platform, it attracts younger readers.

“I look at it as a format issue,” he said. “Whatever the format, it’s still something the people are reading.”

Jones said regardless of format, many times a patron will check out a book by a particular author at the library since they may be reluctant to spend money, then buy other books written by that author if the reader becomes hooked.

While the library also offers audio books, the e-books can allow a patron with mobility issues to check out a book without leaving home, and many of the e-devices can allow those with visual impairments to increase the size of the text.

Despite his background in technology, Jones said he still loves to hold a traditional book in his hand when he reads, so he hopes e-books don’t make libraries obsolete.

“I hope the library doesn’t become completely digitized in my lifetime,” he said. “I’m still a paper guy. If I travel, I would like a tablet, but for home use, I still like books.”

For more information about the library’s e-books or to take one of the free classes offered on setting up an account, visit www.co.bibb.ga.us/library.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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