As she waits to pick up her kids from school, a Whiteland mother flips on an e-reader to squeeze in a few minutes of reading.
Dawn Temple prefers the feel of paper between her fingertips when she sits down to read. But she’s working her way through “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the next book in the George R.R. Martin series. Each book tops 800 pages, so borrowing the reader and a digital copy of the book from the library has been convenient.
Readers such as Temple are increasingly going digital. E-book checkouts are increasing in both Johnson County and Greenwood libraries while residents borrow fewer printed books each year. Since more readers are showing an interest in e-books, libraries are devoting more money to purchasing new titles.
Libraries face roadblocks to expanding their e-book selection, such as publishers who aren’t offering all of their titles or charging as much as three times more for a digital copy, Johnson County Public Library virtual branch manager Davin Kolderup said. In July, the library system ordered 50 times more paper books than e-books.
Library creates virtual branch manager position
With the goal of getting more residents with a computer and Internet access to read or take courses, the county library system created a new position to promote those programs.
Davin Kolderup was named the newly created virtual branch manager in July and will oversee all the Johnson County Public Library districts’ digital services, including e-books, online learning programs and library website.
The position will cover a lot of the same areas Kolderup worked with as a digital services librarian, with the added responsibility of promoting online programs.
With e-book usage rising since the library first offered digital copies in May 2012, one of Kolderup’s main focuses will be continuing to promote digital options. The library featured e-books at its booth at the Johnson County fair this year, and checkouts hit a record high in July at nearly 2,000.
Kolderup also is redesigning the library system’s website, with one of the main goals being to make it more friendly for mobile users. About 20 percent of visits to the library’s home page come from smartphones or tablets. So with a new website, people should see a display more suited to browsing on a small screen, he said.
Library users can start using a new service, Learn4Life, which allows patrons to take a six-week online course on topics, such as Microsoft Office, photography or creative writing. The free courses can be completed at any time, and users could take the courses for fun or to build skills to help in job searches.
But the selection is expanding. The county library system started offering e-books last year, and publishers are offering more titles since then.
E-books likely won’t replace paper books anytime soon, if ever, local librarians agreed. But since so many people now own tablets or smartphones, offering more digital copies is naturally the next step.
“Our goal has been to continue to increase it as much as we can. We see it as one more format, not a replacement of the current book,” Greenwood Public Library director Cheryl Dobbs said.
The number of books, audio books and movies borrowed declined less than 1 percent in both 2012 and 2011 in the Johnson County libraries system but is on pace to drop more this year. However, residents have borrowed twice as many e-books as they did a year ago, Kolderup said. E-books and e-audio now make up about 2 percent of items borrowed by readers compared with less than 1 percent in 2012.
In Greenwood, e-book lending rose from less than 1 percent of the total checkouts to more than 6 percent so far this year.
Edinburgh Wright-Hageman Public Library doesn’t offer e-books because readers haven’t pushed for it yet, director Cathy Hamm said. The library isn’t exploring adding e-books but would in the future if patrons ask for it, she said.
Convenience is a major part of why e-books are gaining popularity so quickly, Kolderup said. Johnson County library users can borrow up to five titles at a time without having to carry around anything more than the smartphone or tablet they likely already bring everywhere, he said. They also don’t have to visit a library branch, because e-books can be borrowed through an app, he said.
Temple can just type the name of a book into a search engine and get what she wants, instead of having to search for it in the computer then try to find it on a shelf, she said.
Local libraries plan to spend more on e-books to try to add more titles for readers to choose from. In the Johnson County library system, for example, patrons can borrow about 5,000 titles, but most are adult fiction or children’s books. Some categories, such as medical books or cookbooks, have fewer than 10 titles available.
Greenwood, which is part of a library consortium with about 100 members statewide, has access to more than 19,000 e-books, but that amount is minuscule compared to the 6 million total in the statewide sharing program, Dobbs said.
This year Johnson County transferred $10,000 originally intended for printed adult books including fiction or history to adult e-books, Kolderup said. By the end of this year, spending for e-books could represent about 25 percent of the money used for new titles.
Greenwood also wants to increase its e-book spending to $20,000 next year, after budgeting less than that for 2013, Dobbs said. Greenwood’s collection will expand more quickly than the county’s because any e-book added by other libraries in the sharing program will be available to Greenwood library members, she said.
Libraries can’t increase their selection of e-books as quickly as paper copies, mainly because publishers haven’t been as open to selling digital copies that will be free to borrow.
For example, libraries can purchase print books at a 40 percent wholesale discount but might have to pay list price or three times that amount to get a digital title, Kolderup said. That’s because digital books don’t degrade and need to be replaced like paper books, which may need to be replaced after 25 or 50 rentals, he said. Some publishers also have e-books that disappear after a certain number of checkouts, which forces the library to reorder that title, similar to replacing a paper copy.
Libraries also can’t lend a single copy of an e-book to multiple users at one time, Kolderup said. Unlike loading a file onto a website where anyone can come and download it, e-books can be borrowed by only one person at one time, which is contrary to the convenience of a digital format.
“We have to pretend it’s a real book,” Kolderup said. “If we buy one copy, we can only give it out to one person.”
That caught Temple by surprise when she went to borrow “A Storm of Swords,” finding that it was already checked out by another user. She was able to put it on hold like any other book and got it when the borrower returned it.
Since e-books cost more and not all titles are available from publishers, expanding the collection will be a slower process, Kolderup said. For example, in July, Johnson County ordered about 3,000 paper books compared with about 60 digital versions, despite e-books being the only selection that showed an increase in checkouts compared with July 2012.
“We are definitely operating with an imperfect system right now. If there was a better option we would grab it,” she said. “It really is a physical model for an electronic item and that’s unfortunate.”