National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.


 County libraries see benefits in lending e-readers

By Charles Taylor

Want to read a good book? You could curl up in a nook at your local public library. Or you could check out a Nook — or other e-reader — from a growing number of county libraries, and take it home with you.

Loath to be Luddites, libraries in Grand County, Colo., Broward County, Fla. and Howard County, Md. have added e-readers to the list of items they circulate.


Photo courtesy of Grand County, Colo. Library District

(l-r) Laura Veenstra and Suzie Cruse, library service specialists at Grand County Library District’s Fraser Valley (Colo.) Library, inspect one of the library’s e-readers that patrons can check out.

Librarians say they’re keeping pace with their patrons’ demands while also benefiting their bottom lines, according to Shelly Kilgas, director of technology for Grand County Library District.

“We benefit because it is more cost effective,” she explained. One e-reader manufacturer she deals with allows libraries to purchase one copy of an e-book and load it on six devices.

In addition to lending hardware, county libraries nationwide are beefing up their e-collections of books that can be downloaded online or at the library. And they’re training their staffs to help patrons with their personal e-book devices — Kindles, Kobos and Sony e-readers, in addition to Nooks.

“Our library patrons turn to us for new formats and for gaining the skills to use these new resources effectively,” said Larra Clark, a spokeswoman for the American Library Association. “Nearly 90 percent of public libraries provide formal or informal technology training to patrons.”

That’s how Grand County Library District got into the e-reader game last year. “We brought in e-readers in February 2010, initially just to get our staff familiar with the devices that our customers might be utilizing,” Kilgas said. “And then we decided we would do a pilot at one of our five branches.” After a positive evaluation by customers, the district expanded the program to all five libraries last July.


The five Broward County, Fla. libraries that circulate e-readers, like the one pictured above, allow patrons to check them out for two weeks at a time.

Howard County Library began lending 60 Nook e-readers to card holders on Dec. 1. Broward County libraries began its pilot Dec.8.

“Not only is it something that’s new, but it has a direct link with libraries,” said Frank Marin, head of audiovisual popular reading services at the Broward’s North Regional-Broward College Library. “It makes books available to people in a new way, brings people into the library, and I think it’s part of how we adapt today to the changing times for libraries.”

Broward County libraries circulate 30 e-readers — six at each of the five branches that offer them. Each library has two Nooks, two Kindles and two Sony e-readers. The county’s other 32 branches are not yet part of the program. The devices were purchased with a grant from the Broward Public Library Foundation, Marin said.

The e-readers circulate for two  weeks­ — three weeks in Grand County — and typically are not immediately renewable, because the libraries have a backlog of customers waiting to check out the devices.

In Broward, and elsewhere, having a variety of e-readers available has enabled library patrons who might want to purchase their own to try out the technology.

Kilgas said, “Essentially, we thought of it as a try-before-you-buy model, knowing that before they make their investment they might want to see if they’d enjoy reading on an e-reader.”

E-readers were one of the hottest Christmas gifts last month, and new owners have been eager to take advantage of related services offered by county libraries, said Maureen Karl, chief of materials and technology management, Arlington County, Va. Public Library. The library doesn’t lend e-readers but rather focuses on content for all types of electronic devices. A recent e-reader training clinic was attended by about 80 people.

“Right before we did the e-reader clinic, we took a snapshot of how much of our collections were checked out,” she said. “For the e-pubs, we are at 74 percent of the collection checked out. That compares to our print collections, our physical collections at 20 percent checked out at any one time. So there’s really a growing demand for this.”

Most of the e-readers that libraries lend are checked out preloaded with content, and patrons cannot add to that. Two of the devices that Broward’s libraries circulate are password-protected, Marin said. For the Kindle, “people agree in writing to not buy anything on the device and to be responsible for the cost if they do,” he added.

Thus far, library patrons have been kind to their Nooks and Kindles — “We didn’t lose a single one; we didn’t have any major damage,” Marin said, and Kilgas echoed the same experience.

While libraries have mostly focused on e-book content, e-readers also offer the potential of accessing other kinds of documents. All of the devices have the ability to read PDF files — presenting the possibility of libraries offering original content or other county documents, such as board agendas, which Kilgas said she is willing to consider.

Libraries see their foray into e-readers as an evolutionary step, but don’t think bound books will go extinct anytime soon.

“We don’t see it as something that’s going to replace what we have, because if you look at new technology people often talk about one thing replacing another,” Marin said. “And the reality is that most often these things exist side by side. The movie theaters didn’t go away when VCRs came along, and certainly we’re always going to have books.  I think there’ll be new ways of accessing them.”