When Glendale and Pasadena began lending ebooks in 2005, demand was low. But an increasing number of patrons are embracing the technology, contributing to what could end up being a sea change in how publishers and libraries interact with readers.
In the first study examining ebook consumption, released in April, the Pew Research Center found that at least 21% of Americans had read an ebook. Eleven percent of people who owned a reading device looked for ebooks at their public library.
At the Glendale and Pasadena libraries, which share the same catalog, the average number of borrowers each month from November to April was 1,620.
“Our circulation of ebooks is the one area of the library that continues to grow by big numbers every month,” said Jan Sanders, the director of Pasadena libraries. “Our other circulated items aren’t increasing.”
Both libraries have recently averaged buying 120 to 150 new digital items each month, from ebooks to audio and video files. Together, the libraries share about 5,500 ebooks. Six months ago, that figure was 3,248.
Even as the Pasadena Public Library spends less than 1% of its annual million-dollar budget on ebooks, Sanders said, more resources are being diverted to accumulate digital files as the library moves away from operating on “a totally print format.”
This summer, Burbank libraries will debut an “e-lending” system after the Friends of the Burbank Public Library donated $20,000 to pay for inaugural year of the program.
Sharon Cohen, director of Burbank libraries, said growing local interest in ebooks was first reflected in a survey of 605 patrons last summer in which 60% said they wanted the electronic version.
Burbank libraries will offer 800 ebook titles to start, with plans to gradually add to the list over time.
At Glendale libraries, director Cindy Cleary said use of ebooks was initially off-putting for some patrons.
“I think the younger generation picked up on this right away,” Cleary said. “We’re seeing more people in the 40, 50, 60 age range running around with e-readers.”
The number of people who owned e-reader devices spiked after January, a product of the gift-giving season, according to the Pew Research Center study.
Cleary said people have so far been slow to realize that the library offers ebooks, but that’s beginning to change.
“Now, what I’m getting is, ‘You don’t have enough,’” she said.