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Virtual library: E-books mean no checkout, no fines

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
March 13, 2011
— Now you can check out a book and return it without setting foot in the library.

"Another branch of the library," is how Carol Kuntzelman, head of technical services and collections manager at Hedberg Public Library, described e-books.


"A remote branch."


With library cards, Janesville residents anywhere in the world can download books onto compatible readers such as the NOOK, iPad and Smartphone. The Kindle from Amazon is not compatible.


In two weeks, the e-book you checked out disappears from the reader, guaranteeing no fine.


"This is slick," Kuntzelman said


Hedberg, like all state libraries, is part of the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium. The consortium contracts with OverDrive, a distributor of e-books. Wisconsin is one of its largest customers.


The consortium has more than 100,000 items available to download, including audio books, videos and music.


The consortium started adding e-books to its collection in September. The books are from all genres and for all ages. Initially, librarians focused on buying classics and now are buying bestsellers and filling in series.


More than 4,000 e-books are available through the consortium.


When more than 10 holds are put on a book, the consortium adds another copy, just like at the traditional library. Readers are notified by e-mail when their books are available.


"This is a wonderful service from the state," Kuntzelman said.


The state pays for the infrastructure, which individual libraries could not afford.


The word about the library's e-books is getting out, and staff is beginning to schedule workshops.


Patrons checked out 57 e-books in September. That number increased to 175 in February.


Librarians here had a hunch that this holiday season would be a big one for e-books, especially with all the promotions for the iPad and NOOK.


They were proven right when OverDrive crashed briefly in several places during the holiday season, right about the time when people were opening their presents, Kuntzelman said.


David Burley of OverDrive described the spike over the holiday season as "the next step" and beyond the company's wildest dreams.


"A lot of devices were given out and purchased," he said.


"We're really at the very beginning of this trend, where things are moving over to the digital side."


The company saw a 200 percent increase in e-book checkouts in 2010 over 2009.


Diana McDonald, reference librarian, said more and more people are coming to the library asking for help with their reading devices.


"It's awesome," McDonald said. "The excitement in people's voices is amazing. The public loves it."


Sometimes, patrons must download software that creates a second library for their OverDrive books, and some have never had a computer. Library staff help patrons through that process.


McDonald recalled working with a dad who brought in his NOOK and his 12-year-old son, with the boy serving as translator.


The library hopes to soon have a computer available so people can download e-books onto their readers. While a NOOK relies on a computer, other devices, such as the iPad, do not.


Does this foreshadow the end of libraries as we know them today?


Librarians don't see it that way and instead look at the new technology as another information tool.


"Anytime a new format comes out with information—whether it's a DVD, a CD, a NOOK, an MP3—we get a whole other group," McDonald said. "It's busier than it's ever been.


"There's always going to be a gap in who can afford and who can't. There's always a need for retraining.


"It's another choice," she added. "It is so extremely exciting."



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