October 15, 2012

Libraries join era of lending by download

Scarborough appears to be the first in Maine to provide access to books via 3M's Cloud Library.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

click image to enlarge

Susan Winch, assistant director of the Scarborough Public Library, demonstrates the Discovery Terminal that patrons will use to order e-books using a special, coded library card.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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.

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