Libraries and Readers Wade into Digital Lending
Kate Lambert recalls using her library card just once or twice throughout her childhood. Now, she uses it several times a month.
The lure? Electronic books she can download to her laptop.
"I can just go online and type my card number in and look through all the books they have," said Ms. Lambert, who usually downloads from the comfort of her bedroom. And, she added, "It's all for free."
Eager to attract digitally savvy patrons and capitalize on the growing popularity of electronic readers, public libraries across the country are expanding their collections of books that reside on servers rather than shelves.
"People still think of libraries as old dusty books on shelves, and it's a perception we're always trying to fight," said Michael Colford, director of information technology at the Boston Public Library. "If we don't provide this material for them, they're just going to stop using the library altogether."
About 5,400 public libraries now offer e-books, aswellasdigitally downloadable audio books. The collections are still tiny compared with print troves. The New York Public Library, for example, has about 18,300 e-book titles, compared with 860,500 in circulating print titles, and purchases of digital books represent less than one percent of the library's overall acquisition budget.
But circulation is expanding quickly. The number of checkouts has grown to more than one million so far this year from 607,275 in all of 2007, according to OverDrive, a large provider of e-books to public libraries. NetLibrary, another provider of e-books to about 5,000 public libraries and a division of OCLC, a nonprofit library service organization, has seen circulation of e-books and digital audio books rise twenty-one percent over the past year.
Together with the Google books settlement - which the parties are modifying to satisfy the objections of the Department of Justice and others the expansion of e-books into libraries heralds a future in which more reading will be done digitally.
But some publishers worry that the convenience of borrowing books electronically could ultimately cut into sales of print editions.
"I don't have to get in my car, go to the library, look at the book, check it out," said John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, which publishes authors like Jane Evanovich, Augusten Burroughs, and Jeffery Eugenides. …