Public libraries across state to start e-book programs

TUPELO – Borrow this summer’s best seller from the library without leaving the house.
Starting in July, public libraries across the state will offer e-books to patrons with computers and mobile reading devices like Nooks and Kindles, thanks to a grant through the Mississippi Library Commission.
The MLC will distribute $10,000 to any of the state’s four dozen public library systems that apply for it, though not all plan to do so.
“It’s a one-year grant to give libraries a chance to test the water and gauge interest in the community,” said MCL Director Sharman B. Smith. “But if it’s popular, libraries must figure out a way to pay for it once the grant is gone. I think there are libraries that are still pondering it.”
About 20 or are likely to apply, Smith said, though she expects all eventually will offer e-books within the next five years.
“It’s inevitable,” she said of the growing trend.
E-books are digital versions of their paper-and-ink predecessors that consumers download onto a computer or mobile device for a fee. Thanks to the grant, public libraries now can buy large quantities of e-books and loan them to patrons as they would the physical versions: For free, for a limited time.
Lee-Itawamba County Library System Director Jeff Tomlinson, who applied for the grant, said he’ll be able to purchase roughly 350 titles patrons can download from the library’s website. That feature will go live sometime this summer, though Tomlinson didn’t have an exact date.
“They’ll behave just like three-dimensional books, with a two-week checkout,” he said.
Libraries won’t provide the mobile reading devices, however. Patrons must have their own, and increasingly, many do.
“We have had some people who are normally big library users buy Kindles,” said Dixie Regional Library System Director Judy McNeece in Pontotoc, “more than you would expect for our rural area.”
McNeece said she’d wanted to offer e-books the past couple of years but couldn’t afford the cost – $10,000 just to install the platform, not to mention the price of each e-book, she said.
Vendors recently slashed rates, though. Tomlinson said he’ll spend about $1,000 to install the platform and use the rest of the grant money for e-books.
He expects the program will quickly gain followers without affecting attendance at the library itself. That has been the case at First Regional Library System, which launched its e-book program eight years ago. Since then, its popularity has steadily grown while attendance at the system’s 13 locations remains high.
“As far as the physical boots on the ground, we’re just as busy as we ever were,” said Catherine Nathan, director of the Hernando-based system.
“It’s a different world, and, yet, we’re very committed to buying the physical books,” Nathan said, “I don’t believe that the public library is going to go away.”
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com