Popularity of eBooks has changed library circulation - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Popularity of eBooks has changed library circulation

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E-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle, are becoming more popular, changing how library directors purchase material for their collections. E-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle, are becoming more popular, changing how library directors purchase material for their collections.
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When Brian Raitz, director of the Wood County Public Library system, purchases a new book for the libraries' collections, he can't buy just one version.

Instead, Raitz finds himself buying at least five versions of the same book — the printed book, a large-print book for the visually impaired, an audio book CD version, an e-book and a downloadable audio book compatible with mp3 players. 

"So now instead of buying one, I'm buying five to meet all the demands of the people," Raitz said. "They don't stop reading the books — they're not reading as much — but there are still people coming in wanting the book, the physical book. There are people wanting the e-book and the audio book. They want to download the audio book, too, in case they don't want to put in it in the CD player. They just put it in their phone or mp3 player and listen to it. That's changing our collection development."

According to eweek.com, sales of e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle or Barnes and Noble's Nook are expected to reach 30 million by the end of 2013, nearly doubling last year's sales. And according to a report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project released at the beginning of 2012, most e-reader purchases are made over the holidays.

The increasing number of people owning e-readers is a challenge to the library. 

"Technology is becoming a big dividing line within the community here and probably nationwide," Raitz said. "We run into that a lot with the e-books. In the last couple of years, a lot of people around Christmas time will get their e-readers. Some of these people are tech-savvy. You give them the pamphlet and tell them how to get a library card and how to get on West Virginia Reads and get their e-books and they figure it out themselves.

"On the other hand, some people have no clue how to use their device and they come in saying ‘Can you do this for me?' so we're running into that quite a bit. It's always been there, that technology gap, but it's becoming more prevalent."

Although the Wood County branches are well-staffed, there's still not enough people on hand to help people who have questions about their e-readers. Raitz said explaining how to download books can take a while, especially if that patron has little or no understanding of technology. It's frustrating, Ratiz said, because his staff sees a need, but it can't meet it.

"We're limited in our staffing ability to meet that demand," he said. "There are a lot of people out there who need computer classes, who need hand-held training to get them up to speed as far as using technology out there. There is so much different equipment, iPads, tablets, e-reader devices, we can't keep up with all of them and we don't have the time to spend a half an hour or an hour with this one person to take them through the whole process. It becomes frustrating for our staff members because we see that need, but we can't address it."

But the challenges are different in smaller libraries. Cathy Ash, director of the Doddridge County Public Library system, which has a branch in West Union and another in Center Point, said she is still purchasing the same number of books for her collection despite the e-reader's rise in popularity.

"I have to say some of our bestsellers don't go out like they used to because of the Kindle and the Nook, but we still buy what we did," she said. 

Homes in West Union, the county seat, have access to broadband Internet. But despite the fact that people can download books onto their e-readers from their own homes, Ash said she's finding that some people quickly get tired of their e-readers, while others quickly adapt and stop visiting the library's physical location.

"We have a lot, but we're finding that the novelty wears off after a while and they use it when they travel or things like that," Ash said. "But there are some people we've not seen since they got one."

But in Pocahontas County, Internet service is about as sparse as the population. Library Director Vicky Terry said she still sees a number of patrons visit their local branches to use the computer or Internet, but that numbers has slacked off over the past 10 years. She's also noticed the difference in people using e-readers and the people checking out print materials.

"It's like I have two groups of patrons interested in different forms of information," she said. "It's the same with audio materials. I have a group of patrons who read and a group of patrons who listen."

She said the majority of people who come into the library for help with their e-readers received them as Christmas gifts. Although a lot of people are confused about the devices, she said people are slowly getting used to them.

"I think more and more people are being pulled into the e-books because I know the advantage is being able to change the font size on the Kindle," Terry said. "As we age, our eyesight goes. For a lot of people, if they have arthritis or carpal tunnel, its easier for them to hold a Kindle than to hold a big, thick book. So for some people it's a nice choice. I see more older people inquire about e-books than I do children. I'm trying to think if I've ever had a kid come in and say ‘I want to download children's books on my Kindle.' I don't think I've seen that."

Both the Pocahontas County and Doddridge County library systems offer one-on-one help with e-readers.

But Raitz pointed out that although the number of e-book loans has increased, it hasn't made up for the drop in circulation of print material. People are still coming to the library, just not for the traditional reason.

"I started noticing our circulation dropping about two-and-a-half years ago," he said. "We had changed some of our policies at the same time, and I thought it was because of the change in policies, but then as it continued to keep going down, we've seen our circulation drop about 10 percent over the past couple of years. The e-books and audio books have not made up for that. They're popular, but the other thing that goes along with that is the usage of the library hasn't gone down as far as the number of people coming into the library and using the library. It's just changing. They're not checking out as many books."