eBook downloads double at Indianapolis libraries

Library branches are helping patrons get familiar with eBooks.
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More and more people are checking out books from their local library without ever stepping foot inside.

The Indianapolis Public Library reports that through November 2012, patrons downloaded 439,824 eBooks, audio books and digital music, compared to 222,731 downloads for all of 2011.

As the library's Area Resource Manager Mike Williams said, "We're in the content business and this is just another box to put content in."

Like many other library systems, Indianapolis isn't just expanding its eBook inventory, it's teaching people how to download e-materials.

It's set up an eBook helpline and "eBook Tinker Stations" at Central Library and 10 branches through February 2.

The Tinker Station includes several eReaders and tablets so people "can see them all, touch them, pick them up, see how heavy or light they are," Williams said.

Emma Ryan, who arrived with a backpack full of books and her school computer, stopped to check things out.

She said she'd yet to download anything from the library, noting, "I like (eBooks), but not as much as having a concrete book with the paper."

Ten minutes after downloading the appropriate apps with Williams, help, she was reconsidering.

"It's really easy and I'll definitely use it now," she said. "It's more convenient than taking the bus here and hauling all those books home. I can do it from home and get up to 12 books at a time, that's nice."

Williams said in the last year and a half, Indianapolis libraries have gone from 15,000 eBook titles to 40,000.

Ginny Ort, who had yet to download a book, said she was game noting several advantages.

"The portability, it's lighter, you can take it with you," she said, and pointing to her bagful of books, "this is a heavy load."

But eBooks still have a long ways to go before overtaking hard copies, at least at the library.

For one thing, if you're hoping to download a bestseller from your local library, chances are pretty good you won't be able to.

Worried about the technology's impact on business, several big-name publishers will not sell eBooks to libraries and Williams said even those that do, can make it difficult.

"In some cases they charge us the regular list, but they put an expiration date on it and it can only circulate 26 times and then it expires for us," he said. "And we have to re-up if we want to circulate that title."

He said other publishers charge libraries seven-to-eight times the list price. Plus, it's one e-copy per person and no renewals.

Williams said at the end of your loan (from 1-3 weeks), "It just goes poof and returns itself, no harm, no foul and never a fine or fee with an eBook."

While libraries hope publishers ease up on eBooks to meet the growing demand, Williams said you'll always find plenty of hard copies on library shelves, which Jane Schuth and her three young children are grateful for.

"We still like the tactile of being able to touch a book, sit down and open it and read and move the pages. There's still something special about it," Schuth said.

Besides Central Library, the "eBook Tinker Stations" are also available at the Franklin Road Branch (5550 S. Franklin Road), Glendale Branch (6101 N. Keystone Avenue), the InfoZone (located within The Children's Museum at 3000 N. Meridian Street), Irvington Branch (5625 E. Washington Street), Lawrence Branch (7898 N. Hague Road), Nora Branch (8625 N. Guilford Avenue), Pike Branch (6525 Zionsville Road), Southport Branch (2630 E. Stop 11 Road), Warren Branch, (9701 E. 21st Street), and Wayne Branch (198 S. Girls School Road).

Patrons can drop in anytime during scheduled two-hour sessions to receive informal, personalized instruction on eReaders and downloading free materials from the Library's collection.

The eBook helpline is open 1-5 p.m. everyday through February 2. The number is 275-4500.