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Rural Libraries Go Digital with E-Books

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May 8, 2011 by wcobserver

Libraries May See One-time Budget Boost

By Susan McCarthy

COUNTY-Libraries in Greenland, West Fork and Winslow are among those that will soon have digital e-books and audio books available after the Washington County Library System approved to purchase a subscription that will provide electronic content to its eight libraries.

“When Kindle’s downloads are about to exceed the sales of paperbacks, it’s something to look at,” Steven Thomas, Assistant Director of the Washington County Library System told board members last Thursday.

The estimated $9,000 purchase will be paid by savings the Washington County Library system has racked up by renegotiating some of its contracts and reworking its utilities plans, according to Thomas. He said the library has realized $70,000-$80,000 in savings over the past two years and about $7,000 so far this year.

“I want to be clear. We don’t need additional money with the money we’ve saved so far this year. We’d push money from one line item to another,” said Glenda Audrain, Director for the Washington County Library System.

Thomas said they plan to join a consortium of other Western Arkansas libraries including libraries in Fayetteville, Bentonville and Fort Smith to purchase e-books and audio books from OverDrive, a global distributor of digital books in Cleveland, Ohio.

Several thousand digital books and audio books will be available as early as this summer and at no cost to the libraries or its patrons.  Thomas said he expects the types of content and number of available titles to grow.  Those with library cards will be able to browse available titles and download them to a Kindle or Nook and have access to their book for a period of two weeks.

“It’s just like a book; five people can’t check out the book at the same time,” said Audrain who explained that like traditional books, there may be a waiting period for the most popular titles. Audrain told board members Amazon had just announced the day before that it had worked out a deal with OverDrive that would allow Kindle owners to borrow Kindle books from libraries.

Audrain said that just a year ago, they didn’t see much demand for e-books from its rural libraries but they have seen an increase in requests for electronic content following Christmas, even in smaller libraries like Winslow.

Thomas said library users will have to use their own hardware to access the material, and it would be up to the individual libraries to decide to purchase and lend Nooks or Kindles.

Libraries will see Extra Money

Board Members also approved to give each of its eight libraries a one-time increase in its budget.  West Fork, Springdale, Farmington, Prairie Grove, Lincoln, and Elkins will receive $3,000 and branch libraries Greenland and Winslow will receive $1,500. There is another $8,828 to be distributed  as a one time payment, on a per capita basis; Springdale will receive the bulk of those funds.

The board’s recommendation to distribute the additional funds will have to go before Washington County Quorum Court for approval on May 12. Audrain said that a decrease in property values has impacted the amount of tax money the library system receives, but they have been able to keep budgets flat for this year. She said she hopes libraries will use the monies to purchase new materials.

“Our thinking is this. Our circulation has been down a little bit. If we go ahead with the OverDrive project, we’ll have some new titles on the shelves when new users come to the library,” Audrain said.

She said libraries could receive checks within two weeks if the quorum court approves the payments.

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