Check It Out!: Library won't let growing popularity of e-readers leave it behind

Posted: Wednesday, October 20, 2010, 9:42 am

I've spent a lot of time talking with people in the last few months. I've been meeting with community leaders— both familiar and new faces— and attending staff and department meetings at our three library locations. I've also met with several of our incumbent state legislators as well as those running for office.

Chuck Gibson

Check it Out! by Chuck Gibson appears regularly in the SNP/Worthington News.

In many of these discussions, the subject of technology is raised. People want to know how changing technology, particularly the growing popularity of e-readers, like the Amazon Kindle, will impact the Library and how libraries plan to maintain their relevance in the future.

At Worthington Libraries, we actively monitor trends in technology and have been keeping a close eye on e-readers.

When they were first introduced more than 10 years ago, e-readers were somewhat of a novelty. Being a self-described technology geek, I had one, but not many others did. Clunky to use and poorly designed, they didn't really pose a threat to the traditional paper book. Now, however, they may finally be poised to lead the reading revolution which was prematurely predicted in 1999.

The e-readers of today are now much more affordable, though still not cheap, and books in digital format are much easier to find and purchase. More importantly, however, e-readers are changing how people read.

A recent Wall Street Journal article cited a study by Marketing and Research Resources, Inc. that found people with e-readers are now reading 40 percent more, averaging 2.6 books per month compared to 1.9 books for traditional print readers. We have evidence of this trend in our own library. Circulation of digital books, available through our website, has increased more than 63 percent this year while overall circulation has seen a slight decline.

According to the Association of American Publishers, sales in electronic books are now soaring, growing 176 percent in 2009, while sales in traditional print books have started to fall, decreasing 1.8 percent in 2009. I have an Amazon Kindle, and I absolutely love the freedom and access it provides. I can purchase and begin reading a new book from wherever I happen to be.

What does it all mean for libraries? While no one knows for sure, I contend that making information available to people in a variety of formats is good for libraries, and if people with e-readers are actually reading more, that's even better for an organization that encourages lifelong learning.

Books, whether in print or digital format, are an important part of our shared culture. As librarians, our goal is to make sure information in all forms is accessible to all people, not just those able purchase it directly.

We're also here to help people learn about new technology. If you're interested trying out an e-reader, join us for the holiday edition of our Technology Petting Zoo on Sunday, December 5 from 1-3pm at Old Worthington Library.

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