Lawrence Public Library receives grant to let patrons try out e-readers

Susan Brown said it’s one of the most frequently asked questions at the Lawrence Public Library: “Which e-reader should I get?”

Thanks to a grant from the Praxair Foundation, the local library is getting ready to help patrons answer that question. The grant, which helps libraries upgrade their technology, allows for the purchase of a variety of e-readers and other high-tech toys.

Brown, the library’s marketing director, said the technology toolboxes, as they’ll be called, will contain iPads, Nooks, Kindles and Sony Readers as well as MP3 players, digital cameras and GPS devices.

“It gets the public more prepared and comfortable with the technology,” said Kelly Fann, IT coordinator for the library.

Visitors to the library will be able to handle the devices and get a feel for what they’re like, though they won’t be able to check them out. Several of the devices have already been ordered and delivered, but it will be mid-July before they’re made available to the public. Brown referred to the program as something akin to “try it before you buy it.”

Lawrence resident Nate Oborny said he reads constantly and though he doesn’t personally own an e-reader, he has read his share of e-books by other means. Oborny said he wasn’t surprised the Lawrence library, like many across the country, was moving in a digital direction.

“I think eventually it will be the norm,” he said.

In order to be the norm, libraries will have to find a way to incorporate the technology into their current daily systems. Issues with digital transitions in libraries center on hardware and software.

E-readers can be expensive, which doesn’t make them accessible to everyone frequenting the library. There’s also a common concern that if checked out, something the Lawrence library will not do immediately, the devices may not be returned.

Getting books onto e-readers can also cause problems for libraries. Brown said she wasn’t sure whether the Lawrence library would purchase e-books for patrons to download or if e-readers would eventually come with pre-loaded content.

The reception of e-books and e-readers has been mixed. Brown said many people enjoy the devices and just as many don’t.

“Our job is to serve both sides,” she said.

The technology toolboxes are slated for a mid-summer arrival at the library and will be available for people to sit with and read with. Apart from training and testing purposes, the future use for the e-readers has yet to be determined. The possibilities, however, are promising.

“I think all it’s doing is offering another format for reading for patrons who are more technologically advanced,” said Lynn Koenig, adult services coordinator. “The print book will never go away.”

Koenig also said e-readers could help make the library accessible any time of the day through online access to e-books. The 24-hour service would help keep the community facility useful and relevant in a changing society.

“We’re very much an on-the-go generation,” Fann said. “There’s not a whole lot of time to curl up on the couch to read. The e-reader is a space saver.”

Fann said the biggest question facing libraries with e-readers was how to make the technology work, something she said the library was hoping to have a definitive answer for shortly.

And while library staff admit that there will be an adjustment period and that not everyone will like the new technology, they agree the conversation is one they’re glad to see taking place.

“The broader sense of it is that there are all these people who are hot and bothered about the issue,” Brown said of e-readers in libraries. “But they’re hot and bothered about reading. It’s great.”