Amy Sadkin director of the Lunenburg Public Library holds one of the Kindle e-readers the library has available for circulation. (T&G Staff/PAUL KAPTEYN)
By Donna Boynton TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Among the hardcovers and paperbacks at the Lunenburg Public Library is a different kind of book, for which dozens of people are on a reserved waiting list.
Earlier this year, Lunenburg Public Library added three Kindles — a hand-held electronic device that can hold entire books — to its lending collection. Each Kindle holds 28 different titles.
“They have been absolutely amazing. They are very popular,” said Amy Sadkin, director of the Lunenburg Public Library. “We have more than 15 holds on the three Kindles, and have just ordered two more through the Friends of the Library which will be available in five or six months.”
In recent years, e-readers have become one of the popular must-have technologies. The Kindle, an e-reader offered by Amazon.com, is the most popular of the electronic devices. It is about the thickness of a pencil and can hold more than 3,500 downloaded books. The Kindle offers classic books for free, with other titles at $9.99.
There are two other similar devices — the Barnes & Noble Nook, and the Sony Reader, both of which allow owners to download books at local public libraries through the library consortium, the Central-Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing.
Local libraries are adding these devices in their collections, in limited quantities, as an alternative to the traditional bound book. Other libraries are considering purchasing them for their staff to become familiar with the devices, to assist readers who use them.
“It’s nice because it targets an audience that may not use the library regularly and want to test them out before they purchase one,” Ms. Sadkin said. “It’s not necessarily the material that is on them that people are waiting for, it’s the device itself.”
A library’s main purpose is to share resources — a definition that has expanded simply from printed information to technology like computer access, and now e-readers. But with the new technology has come a debate over digital rights management — the sharing of downloaded reading materials.
The e-readers have become popular at a time when library circulation and usage has increased. The Worcester Public Library has seen record-breaking circulation increases in the past two years.In Lunenburg, circulation has increased 6 percent in the last year, with the small town library serving at least 2,000 people each week.
The Worcester Public Library is considering buying Kindles, Nooks and other competing devices for its staff.
“This is the technology that is out there and we need to familiarize ourselves,” said Mark Contois, head librarian of the Worcester Public Library, adding that the library has to figure out how the e-reader fits in with the overall collection and budget. “Perhaps these devices will introduce — or reintroduce — people who are comfortable with technology to the public library.”
In Lunenburg, Ms. Sadkin purchased the Kindles, carrying cases and downloaded books with a $1,000 grant. She registered then deregistered the Kindles so no one can download additional books on the devices. There is an agreement patrons have to sign, outlining the $250 replacement cost for the Kindle, charger and case, if any are lost.
“Print books and e-readers will co-exist. I don’t’ think one will outdo the other. Anything that encourages people to read is great,” Ms. Langley said. “It’s an experiment, an opportunity to let people try them out.”
The Northboro Free Public Library recently received approval from its board of trustees to purchase four Kindles, which will be available early next year. Jean Langley, library director, said she and the staff are ironing out what books to download, a lending policy and replacement fees.
“The big advantage to print books is that they can be shared. That is the great thing about reading,” Ms. Langley of Northboro said, adding that libraries often hold book sales as fundraisers, much like people who own books pass along a good read to a friend. “E-books are not built to share. You can’t share a book unless you share the Kindle. Everyone has to have their own device if they want to read their own copy.”
Northboro Free Public Library users can download books to Sony Readers through CWMARS.
Jacqueline Rafferty, president of the Massachusetts Library Association, said libraries eliminate socioeconomic barriers and provide, free,information and resources to all. She said e-readers have restrictions on sharing downloaded materials.
“That model of serving all and access to resources needs to continue, but digital rights management is a major access problems for libraries in the nation,” said Ms. Rafferty, who is the state counselor to the American Library Association and created a resolution regarding accessing electronic information that was passed by the ALA at its annual conference.
“What we need to do is identify more vendors that are willing to set up the same programs with libraries that we have always had with publishers so that we can circulate items multiple times to multiple users,” she said.
Kindles, for instance, can only download books from Amazon.com. The Nook, said Ms. Langley, can download books from a service called Overdrive.
Librarians also say that Amazon is not “library friendly” in that downloading books requires a credit card, which libraries do not have unless librarians use their personal credit cards.
Southbridge Public Library is exploring what e-reader device is most compatible with the services it already offers. Library Director Margaret Morissey said the Nook is compatible with e-pub books that are offered through Overdrive, a software program used by CWMARS.
“As a public library, we have to look at the use of our services and how these tie into our services,” Ms. Morissey said. “On the Kindle we have access to the classics, but everything else we have to buy for $9.99. That countermands everything that a library is about.”
Instead, Ms. Morissey said she is looking for something with “ongoing lasting value,” and through connections within the community, will be hosting a demonstration for the staff of the Nook by Barnes & Noble Oct. 29.
Ms. Morissey said the library is not endorsing any device, but the Nook is more library-friendly.
“Libraries are all about sharing,” Ms. Morissey said. “This is compatible with what we do.”