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Libraries see surge in e-book use

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Pam McHenry reads a book on her Amazon Kindle Jan. 13 at the Franklin library. Branches throughout Johnson County offer e-book titles for free checkout. Usage trends indicate that the medium is gaining in popularity for older adults.
Pam McHenry reads a book on her Amazon Kindle Jan. 13 at the Franklin library. Branches throughout Johnson County offer e-book titles for free checkout. Usage trends indicate that the medium is gaining in popularity for older adults.

The popularity of Nooks, Kindles, iPads and other electronic readers is prompting libraries to invest more heavily in electronic media.

Bartholomew County Public Library plans to spend more than $130,000 next year on downloadable music, audio books and e-books.

In 2008, the library’s e-book budget was zero.

Consumers like the convenience of checking out books from their homes by simply downloading books to their devices. But some libraries also are dealing with flat budgets and have to make cuts in some areas to be able to provide for e-books.

Demand for downloadable content is surging at public libraries statewide. In Bartholomew and Jennings counties, demand for e-books and other downloadable content roughly quadrupled from 2010 to 2011. In Greenwood, it increased fivefold.

Bartholomew County Public Library saw its overall circulation fall 1.7 percent from 2010 to 2011, although it remained above 1.1 million. Though print editions remain by far the most popular items, demand for downloadable content is growing rapidly. It jumped from 8,205 in 2010 to nearly 34,000 in 2011, up 312 percent.

And that’s despite a survey from the Pew Research Center that indicated nearly six out of 10 library cardholders did not know whether their library provided e-books. Pew said that in December, 17 percent of adults said they had read an e-book in the past year. By February, the share had risen to 21 percent.

Last year, the local library, at 536 Fifth St., added a net 4,000 print editions to its available volumes of more than 165,000; but it also added more than 1,000 downloadable e-books.

“We’re investing in it heavily,” Library Director Beth Booth Poor said.

E-books sometimes cost more than print editions. For example, one publisher charges $78 for a digital copy compared to a hardback of $30. Some come with odd restrictions: One publisher requires that an e-book be circulated no more than 26 times.

The library commonly buys bestsellers or popular authors, as long as they’re available. And that’s often tricky, said Jason Hatton, the library’s assistant director.

Bartholomew County Public Library gets its e-books through a company called OverDrive, which deals with book publishers. However, many book publishers do not want to deal with OverDrive because they fear losing sales, Hatton said.

They don’t see that library patrons are actually more likely to purchase a book, Hatton said.

While the library has increased its expenditures for e-books and even print editions (up 15 percent from 2008), it has made cuts elsewhere. It plans to spend $16,000 on magazines next year, down from $27,000 in 2008.

Poor said the library also has lowered its expenditures for reference materials, including Grove Dictionary of Music and the Physicians’ Desk Reference, in part because of online resources, such as

Hatton and Poor also said that since the 2008 flood, Bartholomew County Public Library has fared fairly well because the county keeps growing. Economic growth means a greater tax base that results in more revenue for the library, which receives the bulk of its funding through property tax payments.

“We’re very fortunate that the county is doing well,” Hatton said.

The flood and property tax caps resulted in an 18 percent cut late in 2008, Poor said, which prompted the library to suspend book buying, cutting part-timers’ hours and giving no raises.

Since then, however, staffing has remained steady, at 33 full- and 30 part-time employees.

Mary Hougland, director at Jennings County Public Library, said her budget also has remained steady in the last couple of years while demand for e-products has surged.

JCPL has joined the OverDrive Consortium, paying $3,000 a year, of which $2,000 is spent on increasing the consortium’s e-book selection.

JCPL cut expenditures in reference materials and has given smaller raises. But after tax caps hit, it also cut staff. It has 13 employees today, down from 20 a few years ago.

“Looking at our staff, that’s a huge difference,” Hougland said.

Hatton said that the popularity of e-readers also has required library employees to find their inner geek. Many people buy the devices online but have little understanding of how they work, he said, and library staff often field questions about the devices and how to download content.

Bartholomew County Public Library has responded by offering classes to address the knowledge gap. The next 90-minute session is set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 8.

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