Local libraries: staying relevant in a digital age

KRL, along with many other library systems throughout the country, is working to progress alongside technology by providing new options for readers. To do this KRL has teamed up with a service called Overdrive.

Kitsap Regional Library houses shelves upon shelves of books in its nine branches throughout the county. KRL has more than 500,000 physical items in its collection.

But behind those shelves the library is building a collection you won’t see standing among its physical book collection. KRL has been amassing an e-book collection in recent years that now includes more than 10,000 titles.

KRL, along with many other library systems throughout the country, is working to progress alongside technology by providing new options for readers. To do this KRL has teamed up with a service called Overdrive.

Overdrive is an organization that acts as a go-between for publishers and libraries. It negotiates with publishers to get access to e-book titles and then  libraries that partner with Overdrive select which titles they want to make available to their members.

Other organizations, like 3M, Freading and Access 360, provide similar services, but KRL chose Overdrive because of its compatibility with older Kindle e-readers, according to KRL Community Relations Director Jeff Brody.

“Overdrive is the only vendor right now that is serving people who have the old kind of Kindle,” Brody said. “Since those Kindles are probably the most popular e-reader, at least among our users, it’s really important to us…”

Although the Kindle format is an important aspect of Overdrive and KRL’s collection, it also includes options for devices like the Nook, iPad and other tablet readers.

Through the Overdrive service, library members can go online and search KRL’s digital collection. From there, it’s as easy as a few clicks of a mouse.

Library members have the option of checking out a book for anywhere from one to three weeks. When the time expires the book automatically reverts to the library or goes to the next user on the waiting list.

E-book pricing models

The addition of e-books to library collections, both in Kitsap and the rest of the world, has been a rocky road in the last few years, according to Brody.

The majority of titles in the United States are published by six main publishing houses: Penguin Group, Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster.

As e-books became more popular and libraries began looking for ways to tap into the new technology, the major six publishing houses were trying to decide how to control their new platform.

Because e-books have the potential to last forever (unlike physical books which eventually break down) and to be copied with ease, publishers implemented certain controls on e-books.

Several publishers sell e-books to libraries at inflated prices. One example given by the American Library Association is the title “Eisenhower in War and Peace” by Jean Edward Smith, which had cost $40 prior to price changes and $120 after the increases.

Libraries would then have an e-book copy of that title for as long as it had an agreement with Overdrive.

Several other publishers, however, decided to travel a different route, keeping their e-book prices lower but causing the titles to expire after being checked out a certain number of times. Libraries would then have to purchase a new copy of the title.

“When we purchase a book, the book is ours and we can lend it out as many times as we want as long as it remains in good shape. We can repair it if it becomes damaged and keep lending it out. It’s only limited by as many times as people want to read it and as long as it actually holds up,” Brody said.

“When we purchase an e-book, we’re purchasing the rights to an e-book, we’re not really purchasing the book. The rights come with a whole series of limitations on what we can do.”

Digital Collection

Despite ongoing negotiations between library systems and publishing houses, the market for e-books continues to grow.

A Pew Internet and American Life study released in 2012 showed a significant increase in e-book and e-reader use and a 5 percent drop in the use of printed books.

“As of November 2012, some 25 percent of Americans ages 16 and older own tablet computers such as iPads or Kindle Fires, up from 10 percent who owned tablets in late 2011. And in late 2012, 19 percent of Americans ages 16 and older own ebook reading devices such as Kindles and Nooks, compared with 10 percent who owned such devices at the same time last year,” the Pew report stated.

Michelle Will, a KRL selection librarian, said she is constantly updating the library’s digital collection.

So far this year at KRL, electronic books and audiobooks have been checked out more than 58,000 times.

Despite this success, KRL staff members say the digital collection remains somewhat of an under-utilized resource.

“Part of the problem that we have is just getting people to understand that these books are available,” Brody said. “When I travel I’m always using my kindle because it’s so much easier than carrying books with me … but people don’t tend to even realize that that’s a service that we offer.”

Kitsap Regional Library’s digital collection can be found online at KRL.org/download. Additionally, the library offers help and classes on e-reader use.