Lawrence Public Library exploring digital options for readers

When it was revealed this summer that J.K. Rowling was the writer responsible for “The Cuckoo’s Calling” under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, havoc ensued in libraries and bookstores across the country. The must-read book flew off shelves and was unavailable almost immediately after the revelation.

As was the case at most libraries, the waiting list for the physical copy of “The Cuckoo’s Calling” at the Lawrence Public Library was long. But thanks to technology and the e-readers available for circulation among patrons, Rowling fans didn’t have to wait months or weeks. Librarians downloaded five digital copies onto the various Nooks, Kindles and Sony Readers, helping to shorten the waiting list.

“We could meet public demand quickly with the e-readers,” Collection Development Librarian Erica Segraves said.

The 13 e-readers are among many ways the Lawrence Public Library is moving to meet patrons’ digital demands. The library offers e-books, e-audio books, online movies and music, and digital magazines – all available to Lawrence residents with a state library card or Lawrence library card.

Digital forms are growing in popularity, librarians say, but they will not replace printed books any time soon. Moreover, libraries are just now learning to navigate publisher pricing structures that can make e-books more expensive for libraries than their printed counterparts.

The library’s e-readers are circulated among Lawrence Public Library patrons who put their names on a waiting list. Each device has a different genre of books uploaded, with themes such as popular and best-seller, nonfiction, young adult and children. Some people try the e-readers to see if they want to buy one for themselves. Others like them because it’s easier than toting around five hardbacks. Some like the e-audio books for the same reason.

Lindsey Warner, a practicum student, has been commuting between Lawrence and Emporia, and she uses the online services to download e-audio books to listen to on the drive. At any given time, Warner might have three or four audio books on her cell phone.

“I certainly wouldn’t be listening to the books to the extent I am now if I bought them,” Warner said. “There would be no way I could listen to them so much if they weren’t offered through the library.”

Collection Development Coordinator Charlee Glinka said the library buys titles for its own e-readers, but if a patron has an e-reader, he or she can rent and download books through the library’s vendors for free.

Some of the vendors, like Freading Digital Library, give readers a certain number of tokens to use each week. Books are worth so many tokens and the reader can download books until he or she has used their allotted tokens.

Other e-book vendors, such as 3M Cloud Library, are shared by the Lawrence library and other libraries in Kansas. As is the case with a physical book, if an e-book is in use by someone else, the patron has to be put on a list for the book and when it becomes available, the patron can download it to his or her reading device. After the rental time is over, which is typically about 14 days, the book will automatically disappear off the reader’s device.

The library can’t be sure how many ebooks are checked out by Lawrence residents because the vendors are shared with other libraries. There are, among all the vendors the library uses, more than 35,000 e-books available.

Zinio, another digital service the library offers, allows library patrons to download full, digital magazines to a computer or electronic device. Readers don’t have to return the magazines, there are no late fees and after it is downloaded, readers can access the magazines without the Internet. Patrons can choose from among more than 170 popular magazine titles.

Problems with print to paperless

Although many libraries are beginning to take a digital route when purchasing books, not everything about the move is positive.

“That’s the one drawback with digital,” Glinka said. “Costs are so high that individual libraries can’t afford their own service. They have to go in with other libraries to make it affordable.”

Typically publishers offer libraries discounts for printed books. A library might pay $8 for a book that is checked out 10 times before it needs to be replaced. Then, if it’s popular, the library will buy a new one.

“We always look at things per circulation,” Glinka said. “If we pay about $1 per circulation, we’re happy.”

Purchasing a digital copy of a book from a vendor can cost a library 300 percent to 400 percent more than it would a normal consumer. For example, a reader might purchase an e-book for personal use for $15, but libraries can be charged anywhere from $60 to $80 for that same e-book, Glinka and Segraves said.

Some publishers like Harper Collins and Penguin use metered access to make digital books affordable for libraries. The library will pay about $15 to $25 for one year of access to a book or for 15 checkouts. After that time is up, the library can either pay to continue to offer that book or decide it isn’t circulating enough to pay the fee again, the librarians said.

Glinka and Segraves said publishers aren’t selling as many copies of digital books to libraries, so they want to make their money up front. “Digital books can’t get lost or damaged, no one is going to spill their coffee on it and make us buy another copy,” Segraves said.

Also, when an e-book is no longer popular, the library can’t sell it or trade it for a different book, so it isn’t being used.

Although the e-books and e-readers are growing in popularity as Lawrence residents learn that they’re available, Glinka and Segraves said that print books are still popular and they won’t be replaced by their digital versions any time soon.

“It’s been fun for us to see the different reading styles people have and how as a library we can address those for everyone,” Segraves said.

For a complete list of the Lawrence Public Library’s e-book vendors, and for more information on using digital books and readers, visit