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Electronic book demand keeps rising at libraries

By the end of this year, more than a quarter million e-books will have been checked out of the local libraries if current trends continue.

And there is every reason to believe those trends will continue, too.

“There’s a huge demand,” said Lauren Stokes, the virtual library manager for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District. “We’ve jumped tremendously.”

E-books, for those of you who still think “twitter” is the sound a bird makes, are electronic books. They’re the text without the paper. They’re words on a screen — be it your tiny smartphone screen, an iPad screen, or the screen of a device made solely for reading books. Those are called e-readers. The most famous of them is called the Kindle, sold by online retailer Amazon.

In 2010, the year e-books really began to take off, Stokes said, 122,000 e-books were checked out. It jumped to 196,000 copies last year. It’s already topped 70,000 copies this year, and we’re not even a quarter of the way through it.

This whole thing is a revolution in the making, not a lot different than what newspapers went through — are still going through — when the Internet went from fad to necessity.

Stokes said it seems as if there’s two groups of people who are most interested in e-books: young people and old people.

“I was surprised at the number of teen books being checked out,” she said, citing the “Hunger Games” and similar titles. “Obviously, teens are reading them.”

Also, she said, people older than 50 are really interested. E-readers are lighter and easier to carry around than physical books, and the font size is easy to adjust on the screen. No more reading glasses required.

“The seniors are the ones buying the devices,” she said.

Curious? Want to learn more? You’re in luck, because the Digital Bookmobile is on its way to town.

This behemoth, a 74-foot-long tractor trailer that, when it’s parked, expands like a recreational vehicle, will visit libraries in Henderson and southwest Las Vegas this week. It’s operated by OverDrive, a company the local libraries use to acquire e-books. The bookmobile is touring the nation. Its purpose is to teach folks how to use e-readers and how to check out e-books, audiobooks and music files.

Gayle Hornaday, the assistant director of the Henderson libraries, said demand at the libraries there has “skyrocketed.”

She said not long ago, the libraries were circulating about 300 copies of e-books each month. It’s up near 3,000 now, she said.

The Henderson libraries, which operate separately from the Las Vegas and North Las Vegas libraries, have about 3,000 copies of newer e-books, and thousands more copies of older, less popular titles, Hornaday said.

The Las Vegas-Clark County district, which has 25 libraries overall and operates in partnership with the North Las Vegas libraries, has about 17,000 titles, making up about 25,000 copies of e-books, Stokes said. While that pales in comparison to the 2.1 million print books and periodicals they own, it’s a growing inventory.

Which makes one wonder, why would a library need more than one “copy” of a “book” that is really nothing more than computer code?

Because the publishers demand it be that way.

Of the so-called Big Six publishers, only two of them will even allow libraries to buy e-books, Stokes said. Each copy can only be checked out by one library patron at a time.

Of those two publishers, one allows each copy a library buys to be checked out a maximum of 26 times. The library must buy another copy to continue checking it out.

The other publisher recently tripled the prices of its e-books, meaning a single copy can cost a library more than $80.

The publishers, and the authors of those books, have to make money, after all.

But the high cost is hurting, Stokes said.

Take the “Hunger Games,” for example. The library owns 112 copies of this wildly popular young adult book. As of Friday afternoon, there were 486 “holds” on the book, meaning library patrons had put their names on the waiting list to get a copy of the print book.

That’s in keeping with the library district’s policy of having about five times as many people on the waiting list as it has copies of a book.

But the “Hunger Games” e-book had 116 people waiting in line for only 16 copies. That’s more than a 7-to-1 ratio. Another copy or two would be nice, but they cost real money, and budgets are tight across government agencies right now.

“We don’t have extra money to spare,” Stokes said.

At least buying e-books isn’t taking money away from buying print books, though. Stokes said they district has $240,000 to spend on e-books this year. That money is available because the district isn’t buying as many CDs as it used to. Not many people want CDs anymore.

Instead, they’re downloading music from the Internet, one song at a time.

Which means one arm of the digital revolution is financing another arm of the digital revolution.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.

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