Don’t fear digital books

By Kristen Tribe | Published Thursday, October 28, 2010

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I’ll admit it. Ebooks give me anxiety.

Although I realize this is the inevitable destination of the publishing world, I’ve been slow to adapt. I’ve fiddled around with an e-reader, but while pushing buttons and gazing at the screen, I missed the aesthetic pleasures of a real book.

But I realize that while my “real” books may be my treasure, the digital formats are the medium in which I will likely be working and reading on a day-to-day basis in the future.

Until this point, ebooks may have seemed out of reach or intimidating to many, but librarian Cecilia Barham at the Decatur Public Library is hoping to change that and ensure that Wise County readers keep up with publishing trends.

Patrons will soon be able to check out ebooks and downloadable audio books from the library, and last week she gave me a sneak peek of the system.

Barham began considering the digital plunge last spring, and after a lot of research, legwork and fine-tuning the site, she expects it to “go live” by mid-November.

Even though Barham admits she prefers a real book in some cases, she said, “at the end of the day, there is no way I can deny that this is the direction books are going to go.

“I think it’s part of the future of literacy and reading in libraries, and we can’t be left behind,” she said. “And we can’t let the community be behind because we’re not leading the way.”

As part of the North Texas Regional Library System (NTRLS), Barham had the opportunity to join the North Texas Overdrive Consortium, which gives the Decatur library, along with 13 others, access to a collection of 400 ebooks and 2,182 audio books.

Overdrive is the software used to distribute digital books, and the consortium program allowed Barham to have access to the software for a greatly reduced price. New releases and bestsellers will be added to the collection every month, and Barham said if there are leftover funds, that money will be used to purchase “special request” titles from specific libraries.

The ebooks or audio books can be downloaded to your computer and put on a Sony e-reader, iPad, nook, iPod, and most smart phones. The software is not compatible with Amazon’s Kindle because the company is not working with library vendors to distribute content.

But even if you don’t have an e-reader, you can read the books directly on your computer, whether it’s a Mac or PC, and you can even burn the audio books to CD if you don’t have an iPod.

Barham said just like a physical book, these items can only be checked out to one person at a time, but holds can also be placed on items, just like with things from the regular stacks.

Barham walked me through a checkout, and the process seemed intuitive. The site will be accessible from a link on the library’s main page, and it resembles a book-buying site with books divided into categories.

Users will log into the system with their library card number and PIN number. To get started, everyone has to download the Overdrive software and Adobe Digital Editions, which is easy with step-by-step instructions.

Each checkout is for two weeks, and at the end of that time, the title “disappears” from your device.

In addition to checking out books through Decatur Public Library, there will also be a links to Project Gutenberg and Blio, two other sites with digital content.

Barham said like any library service, she and her staff will support it 100 percent, and they will be able to guide patrons through the process.

“It is the way reading is going to go,” she said. “If we can make it accessible, then when it’s the most common way, people won’t be afraid of it.”

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