For 25 years, Jennifer Krantz had been iphone 5 unlocked a frequent visitor to Florida’s Orange County libraries, borrowing everything from mysteries to cookbooks to romance novels.
But since her boyfriend bought her an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet at Christmas, Krantz, 37, now rarely steps inside a public library.
“The library’s ebook service is great iphone 5 unlocked because I don’t have to park, walk to the library, find the book and check it out,” said the accountant. “The only complaint I have is that I have to wait longer than usual for an ebook because the library seems to stock few digital copies of the titles I want.”
Krantz represents a growing number of the nation’s readers depending on their public libraries to fuel their consumption of ebooks, downloadable audiobooks and other digital media.
At the same time, librarians across the country area are scrambling to meet that increasing demand while facing rising ebook costs and budget cuts.
“Librarians are feeling the tension from both iphone 5 unlocked ends as more library patrons buy tablets and ebook reading devices,” said Lee Rainey, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet American Life Project. The group’s December study shows the number of ebook readers in the United States grew from 16 percent in 2011 to 23 percent in 2012.
At Southbury Public Library, the library, subscribes to a service called OverDrive, which distributes ebooks and other such materials.
“A lot of our members download from there, which is free,” said Katherine Mostacero, reference librarian at the Southbury Public Library. “But since we are part of a consortium, there are a specific number of copies that they have. It depends on the popularity of the book, and if it’s a new release, there might be a wait of a couple of weeks.”
Still, print books remain the library’s core product, said Shirley Thorson, Southbury’s head librarian. For every ebook downloaded, 55 print books are checked out, she said.
Likewise, at the Oliver Wolcott Library in Litchfield, ebooks are growing in popularity, but are still a tiny fraction of the library’s collection compared to print books, said Anne Marie White, Oliver Wolcott’s director.
In March, the library circulated more than 13,000 items, including print books, DVDs and CDs. Of that number, 216 ebooks were circulated. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, 87,640 print books were circulated and 669 ebooks were circulated, White said.
“It did double I think from the previous year,” White said of ebooks. “But contrary to claims that are being made, people prefer the actual paper version of a magazine or pages of a book. We had a 7percent increase in children’s print book (checkouts) last year, which shows even kids prefer the tactile feeling in the hand, too.”
Orange County libraries acquisitions manager Kelly Pepo says ebooks have become “an integral part of how patrons use our library. Some rarely step foot inside their local libraries because they are only using us digitally.” The library also lets users order books on the website and ships them to patrons’ homes at no cost.
In Southbury, the library offers free deliveries to homebound patrons, Mostacero said.
David Barnett, services manager at the Florida’s Osceola County Library System, estimates the library’s ebook collection at nearly 4,000, and more than 75 percent of that collection is borrowed monthly.
“Our online presence has become our virtual branch, and that’s what our patrons have chosen to use,” Barnett said. “I expect the number of checkouts to continue growing.”
But that demand is accompanied by some growing pains, including shrinking budgets and pricey ebook licenses.
In 2009, a year after the Orange County Library System launched its ebook collection, the library’s budget was $5 million. About 8 percent of that budget was dedicated to the purchase of ebooks, while 43 percent went toward print books. The 2012 budget was cut to $4.5 million, and the allocation to ebooks doubled to 16 percent. The budget’s allowance toward print books dropped minimally to 41 percent.
“The growing expense of ebooks is something we’re up against as a profession,” Pepo said.
Tate explains that the library’s two ebook copies of “Guilt,” a bestselling thriller by Jonathan Kellerman, cost the Seminole County Public Library about $84 each. But each of the 20 copies of the same title in print cost $28.
White, of Litchfield, said popular print books often cost as little as $14 in hardcover.
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