Along with the rest of the media world, libraries have been evolving rapidly to keep up with a public that has access to nearly limitless options for reading in many forms other than a traditional, shelved book.
Libraries are offering more classes, are making increasing numbers of
e-Books available to their customers and are scheduling more author appearances to make up for the decline in area bookstores.
“We have had to change our way of thinking,” Ferguson Library presidentAlice Knapp said during a recent interview. “We are much more open.”
The Stamford library entered the world of e-Books 11 years ago, offering mostly academic books to a relatively small audience, but as the platforms for reading have expanded from Kindles and Nooks to iPads and iPhones, the interest in getting electronic books has steadily increased.
“We had a huge increase (last year) just from December to January. It seemed to start overnight,” she said.
While e-Books still only account for about 5 percent of the material used by library patrons, this year has seen 19 percent growth in e-Books at the Ferguson. October was up 29 percent over the same month last year.
Lambert Shell, the director of the Danbury Library, said adding e-Books has meant a big adjustment to libraries in terms of budgeting, as the staff tries to balance the ordering of traditional books with the new world of downloading.
“E-books can be very expensive and you don’t own the material,” he said, adding that in most cases libraries purchase a fixed number of downloads on a title (this is why the waiting time for an e-Book loan can be just as long or longer than the wait for an ink-and-paper book).
Shell said that very often two traditional books can be bought and shelved in the permanent collection for the cost of one temporarily leased e-Book.
Although Knapp said she enjoys having the choice of reading in various formats, she wonders how many e-Book consumers will miss out on titles they might have found through old-fashioned browsing of a library’s shelves.
“How do you find that serendipity of discovery online?,” she asked, rhetorically.
“So many people who walk in (to the library) find books on impulse — `Oh, I read about that!’ I think that’s why so much of our circulation is (still in) physical books,” Knapp noted of patrons who leave a library with titles they didn’t plan to check out as they entered the building.
As the e-Book has become more entrenched, pricing for libraries has changed in some cases, she added, with select publishing houses shifting from a 26-use structure to unlimited use at a higher rate per book, or special deals on permanent ownership. The many different ways books are consumed these days can be dizzying.
Knapp pointed out that the new book by last month’s Ferguson Library celebrity guest author David Baldacci is available in regular print, large print, e-Book, audio CD, e-audio and mP3 download. Add the occasional foreign language editions of very popular books and a library can end up with nine different versions of a big book like Baldacci’s new best-seller “The Escape.”
The Baldacci appearance was part of another Ferguson program designed to get people out of their homes and into the library.
Knapp said a regular “civility series” of discussions of provocative issues — co-sponsored with Sacred Heart University — has been very popular.
Baldacci was a guest of the Library Friends Author Series that is a fundraiser for the Ferguson and, Knapp said, a “wonderful evening out” for a nominal fee. Up next in that series is “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island” author Dennis Lehane, who will be the library’s guest on March 13.
The emergence of e-Books has made it easier and cheaper for writers to self-publish and circulate their work.
The Danbury Library has offered regular sessions on “the ABCs” of e-Books, Shell said.
“We want people to understand self-publishing,” he said.
The growth of self-publishing via e-Book has resulted in more of these writers having their work added to library collections in Danbury and Stamford.
“We read it and vet it and put it in our collection,” Shell said.
Ferguson has been sponsoring a class in memoir writing, led by coordinator of information and adult services Elizabeth Joseph, that will conclude with the publication of an e-Book collection of excerpts from the class work.
“Some of our prejudices about self-publishing have disappeared,” Knapp said. “Some of them are fantastic. When it comes to Stamford authors — (traditionally) published or self-published — we’re going to collect them. But they have to earn a place on the shelf.”