Libraries Embrace Digital Future with eBooks, Music, Video

Article excerpt

Book lover Phil Breidenbach is taking part in an experiment that may shape how patrons use the Shaler North Hills Library and perhaps other local libraries.

The Shaler library is letting Breidenbach, 54, of Glenshaw and a handful of other patrons experiment with an Amazon Kindle, a hand- held device for reading online books. Shaler will be the first local library to lend such gadgets to the general public when it introduces them during National Library Week in mid-April.

"If books move to a format that doesn't take up space, that will free up libraries to do other things," said Marilyn Jenkins, executive director of the Allegheny County Library Association, a group of suburban libraries, including Shaler.

The digital collection shared by city and suburban libraries has been mushrooming since 2005. Starting with nearly 250 titles, it has grown to 18,000 eBooks, downloadable audio books, downloadable video and streaming music titles plus eight databases with nearly a million tracks of music. During that period, the number of users has mushroomed from 82 to 4,500.

Some material can be used on personal computers and laptops while others can be used on handheld computers or portable digital music players. The suburban and city libraries spend $50,000 a year on downloadable video and audio content.

"Obviously, technology is becoming more ubiquitous, powerful and flexible, and the expectations of the public are that they're going to be able to access material this way," said Sarah Beasley, manager of the film and audio department for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. …