SCARBOROUGH – Assistant library director Susan Winch flipped back the cover of her iPad, tapped the screen a couple of times and checked out a book from the Scarborough Public Library.

Starting this week, patrons also will be able to download books in seconds when the library launches its new digital collection.

When the system goes live on Friday, the library will become the first in the state – and one of 72 nationwide — to offer 3M’s Cloud Library, a collection of digital books accessible to cardholders from anywhere they go online.

Librarians in Scarborough say the new system is a natural fit for a community where many people are already reading on their smartphones, e-readers and tablet computers. Last year, the library saw a large increase in the number of digital books borrowed from a statewide service.

It’s not just readers in Scarborough who are turning to their iPhones, tablets and e-readers for the latest book. By 2015, 29.4 million consumers in the United States will own a dedicated e-reader and 82.1 million people will own tablets, according to a 2011 forecast by Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass.

“I think the general trend is we’re seeing an increase in the number of readers who are using e-books,” said Maureen Sullivan, president of the Chicago-based American Library Association. “That is creating for libraries a need to be sure we can offer the book that we would make available in print also (available) in the e-book format.”

For now, the Scarborough Cloud Library will not offer nearly as many digital titles as are available in print, but library director Nancy Crowell expects the gap to narrow as more patrons use e-books and publishers make more titles available. Last year, Scarborough library users checked out more than 4,000 books from the online Maine InfoNet Download Library, up 157 percent from the previous year.

The increase in the number of patrons looking for access to digital books allowed library staff to feel confident enough to make a “significant” investment in services for e-books, Crowell said. The library has spent $31,700 to set up the system, buy the first round of 300 books and pay for five e-readers available for patrons to check out. The town contributed $22,500 toward the project and the rest was funded by donations.

“I think the (library) trustees and Town Council have recognized the important role technology plays” in the library, Winch said. “People in the town are on the go all the time with mobile devices. They expect the library collection to be on the go.”

Patrons will be able to access the Cloud Library remotely or through a “Discovery Terminal” kiosk at the library. To use the kiosk, patrons scan their library cards, then use a large touchscreen to navigate digital bookshelves that display colorful images of book covers. Users can download books, add others to a waiting list, or browse all 200,000 titles available from 3M to add to a wish list that is made available to library staff. The process is the same if patrons log on to the Cloud Library website from home.

The digital “shelves” of books are organized by librarians and already include fiction and non-fiction titles for children and adults. After checking out a book, patrons can open it on up to six compatible devices. Because information is stored in the Internet-based “cloud,” the most recent page read, bookmarks and notes will be saved for readers on each device they use. Those types of notations cannot be seen by other readers who check out the book.

The Cloud Library is compatible with computers, Nooks, Kobo, Android phones and devices, Sony Readers, Kindle Fires, iPod Touches, iPads and iPhones. Users download and install a free application that allows them to read books on their devices. The Scarborough library bought five 3M e-readers that will be available for adults to borrow.

Scarborough’s Cloud Library currently has about 300 books, but Crowell said she hopes to continuously add titles as money becomes available. She has been reaching out to the business community in hopes of lining up donations to buy books, which vary in price from about $12 to more than $100. Books can only be checked out by one user at a time, so the library will buy multiple copies of books in high demand.

While e-books tend to be comparable in cost to their paper counterparts, Winch expects to see savings because they won’t need to be replaced the way physical books do.

“It loses no pages, there’s no wear on the book, there are no fines because it checks itself in after three weeks,” she said.

Readers who prefer to hold a book and flip through the pages need not worry: Scarborough Public Library will continue to offer traditional paper books. There are no plans to phase out collections or slow down the purchase of new books, Crowell said.

“The library has to position itself to be a technology leader while not giving up its traditional role,” she said.

Part of being a technology leader is offering technology — whether it is an e-reader or computer with Internet access – to people who don’t otherwise have access to it, Winch said.

“We’re aware there are people in the community who are under-served by technology,” she said. “The library has always been a place of support for people who need to keep up with technology changes.”

While the Cloud Library is new to Maine, it already has been well-received at libraries in other states.

The Darien Library in Connecticut began using the Cloud Library about nine months ago, said Alan Gray, chief administrative officer for the library. The library already offered patrons access to digital books through OverDrive, a digital distributor of more than a million titles used in 19,000 libraries worldwide. Library staff wanted to offer patrons another way to check out e-books, and the response to the Cloud Library has been “very positive,” Gray said. The library currently has 626 titles from 3M and 1,651 titles from OverDrive.

Recently, staff from the Darien Library spent a week at a local train station talking to commuters about the e-book service because many of them already use e-readers, Gray said.

“It lit up a lot of people’s eyes when they realized how quickly they could get (books),” he said.

Sullivan, of the American Library Association, said increasing access to new technology could attract new users to the library and continue to demonstrate the important role of libraries in the community.

Patsy Wiggins, president of the Scarborough library’s board of trustees, said library leaders want to make sure the library is always part of the community, and offering the Cloud Library will help make sure that is the case. The board’s Strategic Planning Committee has been talking with community members about the future of the library, and found many people want more access to “brand new, cutting-edge” technology like the Cloud Library, she said.

Crowell, the library director, said she is happy that Scarborough is leading the way with e-book access in Maine. She has already heard from other library directors who are considering using the Cloud Library.

“We’re just the first,” she said. “We’re not going to be the last.”

Scarborough librarians will introduce the Cloud Library to patrons during a special kick-off event at 10:30 a.m. Friday. Staff will answer questions and demonstrate how to use the system.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian