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E-readers coming to Woodbury library

Washington County librarians predict that just like their print-copy predecessors, mystery books in electronic-reader format, such as for an iPad or Nook, will be among the most popular genre among library users. The county library system will begin loaning books for e-readers next month.

The No. 1 question staffers at R.H. Stafford Branch Library fielded last holiday season was what e-book offerings the library had. The second-most popular question was which e-reader customers should buy that would be compatible with the offerings.

At the time the library didn't offer e-books, but that's all about to change. The Washington County Library System is about to make reading even more convenient for patrons who have made the jump to e-readers.

Beginning this month, the library system will offer new bestsellers and other popular book titles in e-reader format. That means library patrons with an iPad, Nook or most other similar devices will be able to check out books on the library's website for use on their hand-held e-reader or on their personal computer. Only Amazon's Kindle device is not compatible; Amazon is a bookseller and does not have a licensing agreement to allow for use with library e-books.

R.H. Stafford Library Director Chad Lubbers said he's excited for the addition.

"This is something we know is going to be big," he said.

Brian Kraft, circulation manager at R.H. Stafford, said the library will offer more than 550 e-book titles, with more being added monthly.

The county has contracted with a firm that is developing the website and has experience operating e-reader programs for public libraries, said Pat Conley, director of Washington County's library system. The library already offers electronic versions of books that are no longer copyrighted, such as some classic literature, but the selection will greatly expand under the new program.

Kraft noted that the Woodbury library's website contains links to classic downloadable works.

Download e-books

The new format will be similar in some ways to traditional library loans, but will have obvious differences too. Anyone with a Washington County library card will have access to the service.

Patrons who want to check out an e-book will go online to the county library website and select from available electronic books. Expect to find best-selling non-fiction and fiction titles. Mystery and romance novels probably will be just as popular in electronic form as they are in hard copy, Conley said. But over time the selection will have a broad range of genres, including health, science and history.

Users will download a copy of the electronic book to their e-reader or computer, with the option of borrowing it for one, two or three weeks. When their time is up, the book will no longer be accessible on their e-reader. The copy will then be available for another patron. Users will not be able to renew e-reader copies.

Beyond convenience, the library system will see other benefits of delving into e-books. Conley said once a copy is purchased, the library will own it for as long as it maintains a contract with the provider. Also, she said, unlike a hard copy, an e-book will not get damaged and need to be replaced.

"You can't spill coffee on it," she said.

Service requested

The introduction of e-reader copies does not signal the end of the library's paperback and hard-cover book acquisitions. The library system will put about $15,000 to $20,000 into e-reader book purchases in each of the next four years, Conley said. That will come from the library's annual acquisition budget of about $680,000.

However, Conley added, if the e-reader service becomes popular the library will adjust its collections budget and spend more on the electronic versions.

Lubbers acknowledged the possibility that one day e-books could overtake their physical counterparts, saying "it would be a sad day if it did happen."

That doesn't mean he's resistant to the change.

"I see it as the next step in the evolution of literacy in our country," Lubbers said, "and I'd rather work with it than against it."

There is interest for e-books around the library system. A survey of 890 library users late last year found that downloadable e-books was the top-requested new service, Conley said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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