March 07, 2012

Free e-book downloads popular at libraries

As published in The Erin Advocate

Wellington County libraries are reaching out to an increasingly on-line public with an expanding selection of audiobooks and e-books that can be downloaded at no cost.

"In 2011 the library circulated approximately 10,000 e‐book titles and that number will increase in 2012 as e‐readers become more prevalent and collections of e‐titles are increased," said Chief Librarian Murray McCabe in a report to the County Information, Heritage and Seniors’ Committee.

He said the current level of e‐book technology is still far from user friendly, but that e-book vendors are working to simplify downloading procedures.

"The public library continues to fulfill its role as a guide to the use of information technology, a service much valued by the public."

Many patrons, especially seniors, are not familiar with installing software, setting up on-line search criteria or downloading files.

"Lots of people got e-readers at Christmas," said librarian Janine Morin, who has been teaching people how to use their devices with seminars at the Erin branch. "Kobo seems to be the most popular."

In January, there were 2,157 e-books borrowed county-wide, compared to 85,135 physical items such as books, magazines, DVDs and CDs. But the e-book total is almost six times the total for January 2011, and up about 54 per cent from December 2011.

There are some restrictions compared to a regular book: when your 7 or 14-day borrowing period is over, your copy of the material goes dormant and is unusable. There are never any late fines, and if no one else has reserved it, you can download it again. You cannot lend your library files to someone else. Some e-book publishers allow you to burn a copy of their digital files to a CD to keep, while others do not.

Wellington has only 150 titles of its own, but through a partnership with the Southern Ontario Library Service, local residents have access to 18,000 titles. Libraries buy the rights to a limited number of materials, so if someone else has "borrowed" the digital item you want, you have to wait – just as with a regular book.

The category of e-books includes not only downloadable books, but also audiobooks, newspapers, videos and music. Audiobooks were originally in cassette tape format, and can still be borrowed on CDs instead of downloading.

A new audio product available free at the Erin library is the Playaway book, with selections for both children and adults. It is a small, battery-powered, plastic device weighing only two ounces, with only one book on it. Just plug in headphones or link it to a car audio system, then push buttons to play, pause, skip chapters or change the speed of narration. Essentially, it saves you the trouble of using a CD player or loading book files onto an MP3 player. There are also video productions loaded into Playbook View devices – only five ounces, with a small screen that looks like a smart phone.

To download library materials, go to the library website, which is a section of, and click on the download icon. Click on Getting Started for advice. You'll need to install Adobe Digital Editions on your computer, to manage books like iTunes manages music. You may need to install Overdrive Media Console to enable reading on various devices.

Log in to the Overdrive system of the Ontario Library Service with a valid library card (they expire every two years), browse the material, put items in your cart, then check out (download) up to five of them. You can read them on your computer, or transfer material to devices ranging from an under-$100 e-reader to and over-$500 iPad. Some devices, especially the Kindle, are not compatible with Canadian library e-books. Call or visit the library if you need help.

Wellington is also researching the 3m Cloud Library, which will compete with the Overdrive system. It includes in-library discovery stations, lendable e-reader units, a simplified set-up and log-in process and an option to either check out or buy an e-book. You could start reading a book on one device, then add bookmarks and continue reading on other devices, including computers, smart phones, tablets and some e-readers. Your digital "bookshelf" would reside in the internet "cloud", instead of on your computer.

A new Wellington County website will be launched this year, including a new base page for the library. It will have links to the on-line catalogue, advanced search features and improved navigation. The library subscribes to various databases that are especially valuable for students.
They provide reliable and reputable information not available through Google or Wikipedia, all available for free with a library card.

The current website provides access to the main iBistro catalogue, allowing you to search and to manage your own account. It also has branch details, the LINK newsletter, and information on book clubs and programs for pre-schoolers, older kids and teens.