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Library patrons embrace e-readers

Rina Hadziev

It’s never been easier to lug home dozens of books from the library.

Thanks to an e-reader lending program launched last month, patrons of three branches of the Greater Victoria Public Library can now store a bookshelf worth of reading on a single portable device.

“It’s been great,” said Rina Hadziev, the GVPL’s head of technology services. “But we expected it to be popular, so I can’t really say that it’s been a big surprise. Part of why we introduced them is because people were asking for it, so we knew going in that our community was really interested in e-readers.”

The seven sleek electronic readers available at the Central, Nellie McLung and Juan de Fuca branches are packed with 100 copyright-free classic books, as well as 15 current titles licensed by the library.

“We picked some really popular titles that we’re always running out of at the library, and got those on the e-readers,” Hadziev said.

Those books include the full Stieg Larsson trilogy, which begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; John Grisham’s latest, The Confession; and non-fiction titles by Bill Bryson, Stephen Hawking and Margaret Trudeau.

Hadziev, who reads four books per week, tried out several e-readers while helping the library decide what brand to purchase. Ultimately she liked the Kobo for its ease of use and relatively low price.

The “e-ink” technology displays pages in grayscale without backlighting, making the screen resemble a paper page. A rubberized pad is used to flip the page, and font size and style are customizable.

The Kobo sells for $150. The volunteer group Friends of the GVPL bought 21 Kobos distributed to three branches, making them among the first in Canada to loan e-readers.

“One of the goals for the library is to help close the digital divide,” Hadziev said, noting that she expects the e-readers to be particularly popular among seniors who perhaps cannot afford an e-reader or who would like to try one before purchasing their own.

“Younger adults interested in this technology generally already have digital devices they can read on, like an iPhone,” Hadziev said.

Last year, the library saw a huge increase in demand for e-books. In 2010, library users borrowed more than 10,000 e-books -- an increase of 162 per cent over the previous year.

Digital audio-books also remain popular, with nearly 18,000 borrowed in 2010. That’s an increase of 59 per cent from 2009.

The library offers 12,500 audiobooks and 15,000 e-books that anyone with a library card can borrow. When the loan period ends, the downloaded file automatically becomes unusable, freeing it up for another person to download.

“This is the future of reading,” Hadziev said. “None of this technology is going to replace books, but it’s another way to enjoy reading and promote literacy.”

The new technology isn’t without its faults. For popular titles, there are often long wait lists to access a copy of an electronic book –- an anti-intuitive notion in the digital age. Moreover, it often costs the library more to purchase an e-book than a printed one.

While general consumers can buy an e-book for less than the paper version, libraries pay a higher price for permission to lend the material out. Additionally, some electronic licences need to be renewed annually, whereas physical books only need to be replaced when worn out.

Still, Hadziev thinks it’s a good investment for the library.

“Technology and information are so interwoven,” she said. “For the library to remain relevant, technology is something we’ve had to embrace.”

Hadziev expects the libraries will want to buy more in the future if the program is successful.

“It would be great to see some at every library branch by the end of the year,” she said.

E-readers can be borrowed from the loan desks at the three branches. They are available on three-week loans, are non-renewable and cannot be put on hold. Those keen to test drive the technology are best off to check when e-readers are due back.

To see if any readers are available, visit and type “Kobo” into the search bar, or call the circulation desk at 250-413-0361.

- with files from Natalie North