Libraries offer
electronic books

Downloading books to computers
saves labor, space and time

Want to check out a book from the public library without leaving your home? If you're willing to read or listen to it on your computer, you can do just that.

The Hawaii public library system announced a new service last week giving patrons 24-hour-a-day access to an online collection of audio books and "eBooks" that can be downloaded at home or work.

"People can download the book and read it in the convenience of their home -- or wherever -- on their personal computer," said Paul Mark, information specialist for the library system.

"EBooks" are electronic books, or digital versions of a print book adapted for easy onscreen reading. Digital audio books are also optimized for downloading.

The system debuted July 5, with no fanfare other than information on the library system's Web site. By the end of the month, patrons had checked out 497 online eBooks and digital audio books.

"It was quite impressive to see that people had come upon it and were borrowing things," state Librarian Jo Ann Schindler said.

About 1,500 digital books are available on the database, covering a wide array of subjects, with self-help books in high demand. The library will track what's being borrowed and can adjust accordingly. The most popular books last month were "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova, "The Low-Carb Comfort Food Cookbook" by Mary Dan Eades and "Boy Meets Girl" by Meg Cabot.

"We thought we'd start with a spread of titles and see what kinds of things people are interested in," Schindler said. "We're also trying to have an array of formats for people to use. Some people might prefer the audio to the eBooks."

Schindler said the new digital service benefits patrons as well as the library system itself, which has suffered from staff shortages.

"For the customer, this means no traffic and parking hassles, 24/7 access on all islands, automatic returns, no fines and increased privacy," she said. "For the staff, benefits include no physical space requirements, no re-shelving, no processing, no lost or damaged items, no shipping costs."

The digital books are automatically "returned" when they are due, so there are no late fees. The book file stays on the readers' computers until manually deleted.

To check out a digital book, customers install free reader software, browse the catalog and choose their book, enter their library card information, and then download the title. If all copies are checked out, customers can put a hold on the book and will get an e-mail when it's available.

Schindler said she found the system handy when she was headed to a conference in Chicago. One of the featured titles in the online catalog was a guidebook to the city, so she downloaded it and took it along.

OverDrive, the company that manages the online library, negotiates with publishers and spells out the copyright restrictions for each title.

"Some will say you can burn it to a CD, some say X number of chapters can be copied," Schindler said. "It depends on the book. A graphic on the cover says exactly what they will be able to do. OverDrive makes those arrangements, which the libraries themselves could never manage."

The library system also offers online access to more than 40 databases, which offer everything from medical information to auto repair, as well as full text from magazines, newspapers and journals.

Hawaii State Public Library System - EBooks

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