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Some readers cant wait to check out their next e-book, but not everyone is sold on the benefits
The Piedmont Regional Library System, which includes Jackson, Barrow and Banks counties, has checked out more than 1,200 eBooks since launching the service on Feb. 1. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Her classmates called her a bookworm. Her mom referred to her as "voracious reader."

For as long as Lenora Luke could remember, she couldn’t get her hands on new reading material fast enough.

Some libraries — including those in the Piedmont Regional Library System — are doing their best to help out the Lenora Lukes of the world with an e-book lending service.

"Once I start a good book, I have a hard time putting it down. When I was in school, it used to get me in trouble. Now that I’m retired, it’s not a problem," said Luke, a Gainesville resident.

"The only trouble is that as soon as I finish one book, I want to jump right into the next one."

Since she reads so many books, Luke says it’s more practical for her to borrow them from the library versus purchasing them from a bookstore. Previously, readers like her would’ve had to wait until the library opened the next day to feed their book addiction. Now they can download new titles for free from their local library.

"We have 400 copies of books in our (electronic) collection now," said Beth McIntyre, director of the Piedmont Regional system serving Banks, Barrow and Jackson counties.

"You go to our website, click the icon for library e-books and download the title you want. Most people download the book to their computer or laptop, then transfer it to a reading device like an (Amazon) Kindle or Nook (by Barnes and Noble).

"The default lending period is two weeks, but you can choose seven or 21 days. The books are automatically returned to the library, so there are never any fees involved."

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, one-fifth of American adults have read an e-book in the past year. The survey also reports the average e-reader owner reads 24 books yearly, compared to 16 books read by nonowners.

Since launching the e-book lending program two months ago, McIntyre says the system has had more than 1,000 checkouts. The average wait time for a listed title, when there is a wait, is about nine days.

"We aren’t surprised by the program’s popularity," McIntyre said.

"We’d been getting a lot of requests for this service from our patrons through the library help desks. They were asking when we would be adding it."

The Piedmont system was able to launch the service through a grant from Jackson EMC. Even though the e-book program is free to use for Piedmont library cardholders, the library has to purchase individual checkout licenses for each copy of the electronic books.

"We’ve been purchasing best sellers. Those choices are usually based on the big reviewing sources," McIntyre said.

"Right now, the No. 1 checkout is ‘Witch and Wizard’ by James Patterson, ‘Escape’ by Barbara Delinksy is No. 2 and ‘Explosive Eighteen’ by Janet Evanovich is No. 3."

"When we asked patrons to complete a survey at the end of 2011, they were mostly interested in checking out books for adults, as opposed to kids or teens. Within the adult demographic, they were mostly interested in mysteries. The surprise was that nonfiction — such as biographies and cookbooks — also ranked highly."

Not everyone is completely sold on e-books.

"I’m just not a fan," said Greg Brooks, a Gainesville resident.

"When I want to read, I want to turn a page, not stare at a computer screen."

The Hall County Library System is also on the fence when it comes to the fees associated with borrowing titles from e-book distributors.

"If I am only going to rent a collection, I want it from a provider that will not be gouging the pocket to access the material," said Adrian Mixon, director of the Hall system.

"This is not just about providing a service but one that can be counted on and is affordable. I have not invested library money in e-books until I am comfortable with the (Digital Rights Management) provider.

"The only e-books we offer are through Galileo and netLibrary."

Even among e-book users, there are still some instances when print versions are preferred over electronic. According to the Pew poll, 81 percent of users prefer using printed books when reading with a child and 69 percent preferred printed copies when sharing books with others.

Although they are embracing the new technology, don’t look for libraries to turn a blind eye to traditions just yet.

"This is an additional service," McIntyre said.

"In no way does it impact our print circulation at this point. We are not going to reduce any funding to purchase print materials."


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