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eBooks versus traditional books

At Alpena County Library

June 1, 2011
By DIANE SPEER - New Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

Though eBooks appear to be all the rage and are now among materials routinely checked out for free at Alpena County Library, the latest in technology isn't expected to replace the printed word anytime soon.

According to statistics, local library patrons check out on average 350 eBooks per month compared to 830 print materials per day, making electronic books amount to 1 percent of the library's total circulation.

"eBooks are probably the loudest part of the publishing world right now, and Amazon certainly makes headlines with sales, but it's still a relatively small part of the picture," said Library Director Eric Magness-Eubank. "That being said, it's growing in leaps and bounds."

In an ongoing effort to stay current, the library launched its own eBook collection last year, and has since formed a partnership with other libraries to purchase eBooks and make them readily available to patrons. Toward that end, Alpena County Library is one of about 11,000 libraries nationwide that currently offers eBooks as part of its collections.

"There are a number of very good things about eBooks," Magness-Eubank said. "No one thinks this is a passing fad. It's going to increase its importance over time."

Among the pros of offering eBooks via the library is that patrons don't need to make a trip to town to get what they want. Library staff doesn't have to expend time and money tracking down eBooks and seeing that they are returned, nor do they have to charge a late fee.

Fact Box

eBooks by the numbers

  • 3,100 Number of electronic media (including audiobooks) checked out since eBooks were introduced last May at Alpena County Library
  • 280,000 Number of normal items checked out in same time frame
  • 350 Number of eBooks checked out per month
  • 830 Number of regular materials checked out daily
  • 200 Number of patrons who use library's eBook service each month
  • 11,000 Number of libraries nationwide that offers eBook services

Electronic books give readers with vision problems the ability to resize the text and make it easier to see.

Purchase of an eBook for the library's collections is slightly higher than the purchase of a traditional book, but Magness-Eubank said the cost to catalog and manage eBooks is less.

"It's either a wash or slightly cheaper with eBooks when it is all said and done," he said. "They are a much smaller portion of our book budget, which I expect to continue unless there really is a jump in usage. There's no real new money to go into eBooks, so we are taking it away from regular books."

On the cons side, many readers still prefer the feel of real books, plus traditional books are more or less permanent.

"A book will last for centuries. We know that digital things will not," said Magness-Eubank. "Over time, that will become an issue for eBooks."

Real books also don't require plugging ereader devices into a wall socket for an hour to charge them up. Such devices also are not cheap.

"You don't want to take a $100 to $500 device to the beach," Magness-Eubank said. "With a regular book, you can shake out the sand."

And finally, electronic devices make sharing good books a natural part of the reading process harder to do.

Magness-Eubank does expect the usage and popularity of the digitally-based technology to increase in light of a recent announcement by Amazon which owns the lion's share of the eBook market that Kindle users will be able soon to borrow their favorite eBooks from libraries. Up until this point, Kindle owners could only use eBooks available from Amazon.

With the expected spike in usage resulting from Amazon's recent decision, the Friends of the Library group plans to launch a fundraising campaign with proceeds earmarked for additional eBook purchases. As part of the campaign, the Friends will encourage patrons to suggest titles and genres they would like to see made available for ereaders.

The library rolled out its eBook service last May. A library card with an assigned pen number is necessary for checking out materials. The service is tied into the library's website,, which Magness-Eubank said is easy to use.

For those unsure of how to proceed with electronic books, how-to classes are routinely offered by library staff.

The check-out period for eBooks is two weeks, although the library is in the process of assessing whether to extend that time frame or not. Patrons are limited to four items at a time. Close to 200 patrons a month use the eBook service.

Despite the growing popularity of eBooks, Magness-Eubank isn't worried about a drop in traditional collections usage at the library. Statistics show that such usage has increased year by year, especially as the economy has declined and people are looking for free resources.

"There are indications out there that print is not going to go anywhere anytime soon," Magness-Eubank said. "In short, I'm not worried about eBooks putting us out of business. I think it's a tremendous opportunity for us. It's an additional way of serving patrons and making it easier to do business with us."



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