Evanston library patrons increasingly are checking out electronic books—but library officials say several factors are holding back the growth.
Although e-book usage at the library is increasing, it is still a fraction of traditional book usage, partly because of restrictions publishers place on library e-books.
Some publishers restrict the number of times the library can lend patrons an e-book. And buying a digitized book is much more expensive for the library than getting a traditional book. “In some cases, it is three times more expensive,” head of adult services Lesley Williams said.
To make the e-book business model sustainable, publishers increase prices on e-books. Publishers say they need to adapt e-books for various formats — desktop and laptop computers, smart phones, tablets and e-readers — and that all that coding costs money.
E-books have to be protected against piracy and other copyright infringement and some are constantly updated in ways that traditional books cannot be.
Virtual copies do not wear out the way physical books do, so libraries do not have to replace old e-books the way they do with tattered, old printed books.
Some patrons—even young ones—still prefer the physical book. When going to Evanston Public Library to study with a friend, 21-year-old Loyola University student Eric Rahn said he prefers “a regular book.”
“But I use e-books because it saves my back. Having e-books saves you 20 to 30 pounds in your backpack.”
“I like e-books for the convenience, but I like regular books just for the feeling of turning a page. It’s a sensation that you can’t really describe, but it’s irreplaceable,” 17-year-old Evanston Township High School student Brandon Houston, said.
In general, e-readership has increased, but a larger percentage of Americans still read traditional books. According to a new national report from the Pew Research Center, among those surveyed ages 16-29, e-book readership increased from 19 percent in 2011 to 25 percent in 2012. Three-quarters of people in the same age group say they’ve read a printed book in the last year.
In June, 1,123 people checked out 4,885 e-books through Evanston Public Library. That’s a 59 percent increase in e-book usage over the same month last year.
But it’s just over 6 percent of the total monthly library circulation of over 80,000 books, DVDs and CDs.
“Reading can happen in a lot of different formats, and libraries have always offered a variety of different ways for people to access literature and for people to be involved with literature and authors,” Williams said.
For example, Williams said, e-books make it easier for travellers, who don’t want to carry physical books. “The great thing about digital books is that location does not matter,” Williams said.
Because the books are available to download, they can be read offline, even on an airplane. The e-reader is much more lightweight than a physical book, so it is easier to carry.
The Evanston library is part of a group of area libraries that have joined a website called My Media Mall where patrons can check out a variety of audiobooks or e-books. Patrons simply enter their library card number, “check that book out” to their account and then download it to their device.
“We are not transitioning, we’re just using both,” traditional books and e-books, Williams said, comparing it to when the library began circulating audiobooks to provide another format for readers to use.