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Readers check out ebooks

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

LEESBURG -- You're sitting the in the doctor's office, waiting to be called in. Or, perhaps you're waiting for an appointment at the barber shop or a salon.

The magazines to choose from are out of date, or not on topics you're particularly interested in.

It's a situation nearly everyone's been in, one that invariably results in boredom. But what can you do?

Well, now you can pull out your iPhone or your Droid and read a book that you electronically borrowed.

If you were unaware that you could borrow a book from your library -- is your library is in a consortium of Georgia libraries that includes Lee and Dougherty counties -- don't feel bad. The service launched Jan. 5 with five titles purchased by the Lee County system.

Now, there are more than 450 ebooks available for a seven- to 14-day download onto your computer or a number of electronic reader and phone devices.

"It's amazing to me that those five little titles we ordered started this up," said Claire Leavy, Lee County Library director. "I knew once they hit that others would join in."

The GADD consortium -- an acronym for Georgia Download Destination -- includes 22 systems out of the Georgia Library PINES (Public Information Network for Electronic Services) that has created a "borderless" library system for the state that gives patrons access to more than 9.6 million titles housed at 275 libraries in 140 of Georgia's 159 counties.

GADD participating libraries had looked at a possible ebook download system a year earlier and opted not to pursue it. That changed quickly in late 2010. When Lee placed its five-book order, another GADD library followed the lead and ordered 25. When the new system officially launched on Jan. 5, there were 49 books to choose from and they were "checked out" by 2 p.m. that day, Leslie Partridge, branch services coordinator librarian, said.

"It's amazing that you can download that 400-page book in 15 seconds on your iPhone," Partridge said.

ALREADY POPULAR

It's gaining in popularity with both patrons and librarians.

"We knew when we placed that first order that the others in the consortium would jump on it," Leavy said. "The nice thing about it is it shows up on your site within 24 hours of being ordered."

"Right now (Wednesday afternoon) we have 346 reserves out of the 453 (available) titles. You can put a hold (reserve an ebook that is currently checked out) on these ebooks just like you can do with a regular book."

There's also no waiting for the library to open or rush to get there before it closes. "It's like a 24-hour free book store," Partridge observed.

Partridge, who makes the purchase orders for the Lee system, said the ebooks can be checked out on mobile devices, such as the iPhone, for seven days and on a computer for up to 14 days. "It'll tell you when it has expired," she said.

The way the system works is a library patron goes to his or her home library website, such as Lee County's.

The ability to download electronic books requires the use of an application called Overdrive, which is compatible with PCs and Macs, mobile devices including the iPhone and Droid, and readers including Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony Reader. The GADD member libraries have icons so that users can connect with the website www.overdrive.com to download the free app.

With Overdrive downloaded, the patron uses his or her library card logon and an assigned PIN to access the ebook web page. Once there, the patron can see the ebooks available, search for titles and types of books, and download the desired title. If the book is already checked out by another user, the patron can place a hold on it and receive the book once it is checked back in.

"You can search just as you can our catalogue," Partridge said.

Partridge said one aspect that helped the launch of the the ebook feature for GADD members was that it came up around Christmas. "So many people were getting these devices anyway," she said. Patrons who learned from the Lee library website or its Facebook page that the ebooks were coming were asking library officials about which devices to buy for compatibility.

"Right now it's (Overdrive) supporting all known devices except Kindle," Leavy said.

SAVVY READERS

Partridge said she's been focusing on acquiring popular titles -- one of the first she bought was Kathryn Stockett's "The Help." "The first thing I did was order the best-sellers," she said, adding she is now focusing on fiction and some children's books as well.

Leavy said the ebooks cost an average of $15, compared to the average $25 cost of acquiring a physical book. Partridge noted that some titles are less expensive, with classics and some other older books running under $10 for ebook versions and ebooks in public domain going as cheap as 99 cents. Leavy said each GADD member is expecting to spend around $3,000 on ebooks.

That combined purchase power benefits users, especially in tight spending times.

"Public libraries have had severe state budget cuts and we've had local budget cuts, too," Leavy said. "What this consortium (GADD) allows is for us to do things like ebooks and audio books at a price that is reasonable for all of us."

Offering electronic books another step in the evolution of libraries, Leavy and Partridge said. For years, libraries have incorporated media other than conventional books, magazines and newspapers, providing patrons with access to VHS tapes and, later, CDs and DVDs.

But Leavy sees the ebook as a complementary library service, not as a replacement for physical books.

"Are the print books at the Lee County Library going to disappear?" she said. "Not at all. I think this is another avenue. It's an option for people that like to do that.

"Every library system has to look at its community's needs and this is something our community has been asking for."

To remain relevant to their patrons, it's incumbent on library officials to stay as close to the cutting edge as they can on services. Leavy said she's proud to be the first library in the area to enter the ebook arena, noting that Lee was also the first in the region to offer self-checkout and an early provider of DVDs.

"We've been on the forefront," she said. "We have to be on top of it or ahead of the curve ... to budget" for innovative services.

Leavy said Lee County has a media savvy population. "We have to take the ordinary things people do and mesh that with what we're doing in our library," she said.

There no set goal on how many ebooks to add to the system, Leavy said.

"I think our user demand will make that decision for us," she said. "Some people want to read their books or their newspapers online.

"I think it's going to generate some readers."