Libraries Embrace e-Book Lending

Several weeks ago, sitting at his home computer, high school student Nathan Shinabarger logged into his account at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library and rented two Kindle e-books--Chris Hardwick's The Nerdist Way and Keith Ferazzi's Who's Got Your Back. Shinabarger said he regularly borrows virtually because it's more convenient than going to the library in person.

Toni Tolbert from Austin, Texas, started downloading library books to her Nook a year ago. Although she still loves the "look and feel of a real book," Tolbert enjoys renting e-books every month, searching her library's wide selection of digital titles for everything from Christian literature to action novels.

In recent years, the rising popularity of e-books has transformed Americans' reading habits, creating new expectations for information distribution. Many patrons are eager to see libraries expand their electronic resources, even as they want continued access to print books. The digital library trend has already gained momentum among academic libraries, and now one Texas county plans to open the only "bookless" public library in the nation.

"A technological evolution is taking place," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, a leading proponent for his county's library project, told National Public Radio (NPR). "And I think we're stepping in at the right time."

The planned paperless library, BiblioTech, will be located on the south side of San Antonio. Instead of the traditional offerings of dusty classics and dog-eared reference books, its shelves will hold rows of LCD screens and gadgets. The 4,989-square-foot facility will be one of the first of its kind, featuring 50 computer stations, 25 laptops, 25 on-site tablets, and dozens of e-readers available for check-out.

According to spokeswoman Laura Cole, the county hopes to open the library in late July. The $1.5 million project will be cost-effective and help improve technological access to lower-income areas of the predominantly Hispanic community. "Accessibility is a big reason for the creation of BiblioTech. We are bringing the library to the people," she said.

Many traditional libraries already offer digital content. At the Austin Public Library, each new release selected is purchased in all available formats, including e-book and audio book formats. 

"While some may fear that digital libraries will usurp traditional libraries, we anticipate a continued demand for traditional library resources even as the demand for electronic resources continues to increase," said Kanya Lyons, public information specialist at the Austin library.

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Caroline Leal
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