Reading of the future


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Imagine accessing hundreds of books without ever leaving home.

Technology has made it possible, and the Iowa City Public Library offers the resources to make it happen.

A result of popular demand, the library introduced a 170-item collection of eBooks on its virtual shelves Dec. 1. In the first four days, 67 were checked out, 20 had holds, and 25 new patrons started using downloaded eMedia, said Kara Logsden, the adult services coordinator for the library.

Collection items are available to library cardholders in the Iowa City, rural Johnson County, and University Heights area; they will be available to Coralville residents starting in February 2010.

EBooks can be read on a PC or a Mac using free downloadable Adobe Digital Editions software or with the Sony Reader, a handheld device.

The devices make access to reading materials possible using computers and handheld machines. Some companies have created signature devices — Amazon has the Kindle, Barnes & Noble has the Nook, Sony has the Reader.

The library utilizes eBooks through OverDrive, one of the major eBook providers offering more than 100,000 titles. Titles are checked out for seven, 14, or 21 days. At the end of that period, the eBook automatically expires and checks itself back into the collection. The library offers a Sony Reader for patron use in the library.

Interfacing with the world

EBooks are one of many technologies in which libraries have invested. Three years ago, the Iowa City Public Library started offering the wildly successful eAudio books, downloadable audio books that can be uploaded to MP3 players.

New technologies are integral to the modern library, and local librarians are relying more and more on the Internet and computer software to maintain collections.

“[Technology] has just permeated every part of our lives,” Logsden said. “We have so many new ways of interfacing with the world … [and the library staff] has to make sure we’re there.”

That’s why the library started an emerging-technology committee in August, a group of library-staff members responsible for monitoring market changes and trends in order to keep the facility modern.

The committee watched the sales and availability of eBooks rise and the price of digital readers drop from more than $300 to $199 over the past few years. EBook sales saw a 177.3 percent increase in 2009, according to the Association of American Publishers.

The time was right to invest

“Both sales and the number of items being published was reaching enough of a critical mass that there was a product to offer patrons,” said Andrea Flemming, the head of the emerging-technology committee.

The library invested $10,000 in its first collection of eBooks. Library officials made because they expect a holiday boom of e-reader sales in the area, and staff members predicted a spike in eBook checkouts at the end of December as a result.

Logsden said the same thing happened when DVDs first hit the market.

“There was a lot of interest, people with questions wanting to know about [DVDs],” she said. “Then the holidays came around, and many were given DVD players as gifts. The demand was there, and we anticipate the same thing happening with e-readers.”

UI Libraries provides access to approximately 200,000 eBooks online for students, faculty, and staff, but they are not compatible with handheld devices.

However, Ed Shreeves, an associate university librarian and the director of collections and scholarly communication, said he could see adding software for handheld devices in the future if the demand was there. UI Libraries spends at least $6 million on digital information each year, Shreeves estimated.

Libraries of the future

While increasing amounts of content is available online, librarians and staff can’t imagine the abandonment of physical libraries.

“There will always be resources that people come to use in the library,” Shreeves said. “We also want to make the library a place that people want to come because it’s a pleasant place to be even if doing work with digital resources.”

The UI Libraries and the Public Library aren’t alone in their technological endeavors. Libraries around the country are digitizing. More than 9,000 libraries, schools, and retailers utilize OverDrive’s eBook catalogue.

“One of the main advantages is that eBooks are accessible 24/7,” the Public Library’s Flemming said. “As a public library, we’re open a lot of hours a week, but we’ll probably never be open at midnight.”

In the meantime, UI librarians are busy converting paper materials to digital materials, which Shreeves thinks will become more common in the future.

“People simply expect that convenience [of digital formats],” he said. “So we are moving into a digital delivery of information in the large majority of cases.”

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