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Libraries Can't Keep Up with Demand for E-Readers, E-Books

Get in line if you want to check out an e-book.

A flurry of book lovers, armed with e-readers gifted during Christmas, have hit Anne Arundel County’s libraries online in full force, creating virtual waiting lines for the most popular books.

The Anne Arundel County Public Library (AACPL) system has been electronically lending books since 2004 and started . But a new wave of patrons hit the library’s website after Christmas.

Thousands of books can be electronically loaned to e-readers such as Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook through the local library system’s website. It’s all free, as long as you’ve got a library card and some patience.

Arnold resident Anne Kelburn said she was excited to get a Kindle from her husband for Christmas, but she wasn’t exactly sure where to get books, apart from buying them online. After seeing an advertisement, she visited the and discovered she could effectively “rent” new books through the county library’s website.

“I don’t normally like buying books, so that opened up more possibilities for me,” Kelburn said. “As long as they can keep them in stock, I’ll keep reading them.”

Though the e-books don’t take up physical space, there aren’t an unlimited amount of them. Libraries must purchase licenses for each book and treat them as if they are real books, lending them out in a first-come, first-served basis.

Hundreds of local libraries are linked together online through the Maryland Digital eLibrary Consortium, powered by OverDrive Digital Library Reserve. In this way, they can pool their resources. Anne Arundel County's libraries now have access to more than 10,000 e-books, with more than 20,000 licenses. But they also purchase their own e-books only available to their patrons.

Often, it’s still not enough to meet the demand for popular books.

Take the popular mystery/thriller by Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example. There are 79 licensed copies available to area libraries. None are available, and there are 268 patrons on a waiting list for the book.

E-books aren't the only things with a waiting line at libraries these days. In November, the AACPL system began offering 200 new e-readers like the Nook and Kindle for library patrons to check out. The initiative has been a huge success, and it’s created a huge waiting line, said AACPL spokeswoman Laurie Hayes.

“The e-readers continue to be wildly popular since first being made available,” Hayes said. “As of (Friday), the Anne Arundel County Public Library had 1,145 holds on the 205 e-readers being circulated by the branches.”

Dozens of books are pre-loaded onto these borrowed e-readers, including popular titles such as the aforementioned book by Larsson, thrillers by Tom Clancy, histories, biographies and more.

A survey taken by library patrons who have used the e-readers indicated they found them easy to use, and 74 percent said they’d be back to check one out again.

Based on that success, Hayes said the library system hopes to purchase up to 1,000 new e-readers in the future. The first batch of 200 e-readers was funded by $50,000 in private donations from the Library Foundation. The future devices could be funded through a silent auction during the Annapolis Rotary’s Black Tie and Diamonds gala in March. Attendees will be invited to purchase one or more of the devices for the library’s collection, Hayes said.

E-books can be accessed through the county library’s website. From the homepage, go to “e-library” and then click on “e-books.”

The checkout period for e-books is one to two weeks, depending on the material. The books will simply expire at the end of their loan period, meaning there are no late fees. Patrons are limited to four e-books or audiobooks at a time, although the books can be returned early.

Barb Cantor January 04, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Well, while you are waiting for your ebook to come in, try reading a real book or better yet patronize a book store and buy one. I hate to see our book stores dying and library funds being diverted to e-readers and books.
Sandy January 04, 2012 at 02:28 PM
I do share the concern about independent book stores. But overall, I think the acceptance of e-readers is a fine thing. As long as people are reading, who cares how they are doing it? The move to e-books by libraries may save taxpayer money in the long run, because we may end up using less space on shelving and physical books. New libraries may not have to be as large, and thus they may not have to be as expensive to operate and maintain. If money is saved on operating costs, e-book collections can in turn increase, more books will be available for borrowing and more people will end up reading. And that should be the ultimate goal.
Lisa H. January 04, 2012 at 03:25 PM
I've been trying to find out about more regarding the end-to-end business model that Maryland is using for e-lending. I'm trying to find out how the libraries purchase the e-books. How does the licensing work? Who decides which titles to purchase? Are the licensed copies owned by each county library or the state of Maryland? The wait lists for titles - are these wait lists state-wide? How does Overdrive (the e-book distributor) make its money in this scenario? How many middle men are there? For example; I have a Kindle, so I know that Amazon is a partner in the process that I use to borrow a e-book from the library - I get redirected to Amazon after I go to the Overdrive website first. Are they both getting paid to provide a service? Is there duplication of service here? Can we levy requirements against the Overdrive provider? Their website interface is terrible. I can't get any answers from the library's information desk about these questions. I've also asked the Baltimore Sun to do a story about it. But so far, I've had little success finding answers.
Laurie Hayes January 04, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Lisa- I would be happy to provide some answers for you. Anne Arundel County Public Library is part of a state consortium that purchases licenses for eBooks. These books are shared among the library systems throughout the state. We also independently purchase eBooks that are available only to Anne Arundel County Public Library card holders with funds out of our Materials budget. This is why we suggest logging in with your library card number when using the Overdrive site to ensure that you see all the eBooks available. The waiting lists for eBooks encompass library customers throughout the state or throughout the county depending on the holding. Our titles are chosen by our Materials Management Department according to patron demand and other criteria - much the same as the books on our shelves. Overdrive is the provider of eTitles for libraries - and one of the only games in town in this regard. Their website is admittedly a bit cumbersome to navigate and we have not been shy about noting problems. They are working on some issues. Hopefully this helps answer some of your questions. If you need additional information, please feel free to contact me directly at lhayes@aacpl.net or by phone at 410.222.7371. If I don't know the answers, I will find someone who does. Regards, Laurie Hayes Manager, PR and Marketing for the Anne Arundel County Public Library
Lisa H. January 04, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Ms. Hayes, Thank you so much for the quick response. I may email you with more questions. Thanks, Lisa
nicole January 05, 2012 at 09:17 AM
For a long time, I swore I would never get an e-reader. Books are such joyful objects. They are fun to hold, it feels good to flip pages, and they even smell good. But then last year, a friend let me use his Kindle and I quickly decided e-readers were not so bad after all. This year, I got one of my own for Christmas and I am already having a blast with it. I realize that there is a time and place for each format. One is not necessarily better than the other. I would recommend an e-reader to anyone who loves to read. Make sure you check out some reviews before you buy! http://hudsonmonk.com has some solid honest reviews.

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