Local Libraries Seize E-reader Opportunity, Large Public Libraries Lag


NYPL e-readers

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue cites budget constraints for the lack of on-loan e-readers. Photo: Alex Contratto

Although the New York Public Library is seeing rapid growth in availability of e-materials, budget limitations prevent the library giant from supplying on-loan e-tablets to patrons.

New-tech readers must use their own devices to access e-materials outside of the library, which offers a supply of e-readers and computers only for use in the library. Miriam Tuliao, assistant director of Central Collections at New York Public Library, explained that while “loaning digital devices would certainly provide patrons with expedited, portable access to the e-NYPL collection,” a “limited budget certainly compromises the NYPL’s ability to provide sufficient numbers of devices to support the Library’s 1.6 million active users.”

Peggy Murphy, Interim Collection Services Manager of the Los Angeles Public Library, says she too has wanted to offer e-tablets for checkout, since seeing potential devices at a recent library conference in New Orleans — but she operates under budgetary restrictions as well. “We do not have funding at this time to pursue lending digital tables to patrons inside or outside the library,” said Murphy.

At the same time, the numbers for e-books climb each year.  Amy Geduldig, Public Relations Manager at New York Public Library, said there is increasing interest in e-materials (including videos, books, movies, and audiobooks) throughout NYPL branches, one of the largest library systems in America.  In the past year, she said, the number of available e-book titles rose from 29,703 to 44,984, while total numbers in all formats, print and digital, rose from 53,784 to 74,615.

Smaller libraries have more room to play with their budgets. The Ruth Keeler Memorial Library (RKML), located in North Salem, New York and a member of the Westchester Library System (WLS), issued six Nooks for checkout in early August 2011 as part of a pilot program.  The library’s Friends Group, a collection of library members who fund support programs and underwrite library costs, donated the Nooks to the library for checkout to enhance readers’ ability to access materials.

Ruth Keeler Memorial Library uses Overdrive, a subscription service for e-materials used throughout the WLS, so that librarians can purchase titles from Barnes & Noble, which owns the Nook, and download them to the devices.  Cathleen Sulli, Assistant Director and Children’s Librarian at RKML, said that this enables readers to access materials on a library tablet or to transfer them to their own tablet device, such as a Nook or iPad.  Plans to include Kindles in this system are still in development.

With lending periods of up to three weeks, readers seem to be “really enjoying the Nooks.  There are already twenty people on the waiting list.  They are very enthusiastic about the program,” said Sulli.  Luckily, no damages have yet been reported to the Nooks, perhaps indicating the respect patrons have for the opportunity to use the devices to access their favorite titles.

Amy Sadkin, Director of the Lunenburg Library in Lunenburg, Massachusetts also offers a Nooks lending program at her library.  Users seem to rent the devices for two main reasons, according to Sadkin: “1) to see if they like them and if they would like to purchase one for themselves, and 2) to take on trips with them since they’re far more easy to transport on a plane than several books.”

The NYPL does offer several mobile apps to users across iPhone, iPad, and Droid platforms, most notably NYPL mobile, which enables readers who own devices to access the NYPL catalogues from mobile library accounts.  This app functions as the primary source for retrieving e-materials through a personal mobile device, creating easy access to titles in electronic format.

With growing interest in access reading materials anywhere and the abundance of tablet platforms, “it’s important to note that library patrons can check-out e-materials from anywhere – at home, at the office – simply by using their library card. A patron does not have to be at the Library to check out e-materials,” said Amy Geduldig, Public Relations Manager at the New York Public Library.