July 31, 2010

At Winthrop library, the future is now

'I'm not looking to replace books,' director Richard Fortin says

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WINTHROP -- An opportunity to borrow a Kindle rekindled Jana Diket's interest in becoming a Charles M. Bailey Public Library patron.

click image to enlarge

BOOKISH: Charles M. Bailey Public Library in Winthrop recently acquired three Kindle electronic book readers.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

When she saw the reference to Kindles on the library's Facebook page, "It made me go in and get a card and sign up for the waiting list," Diket said.

Instead of having to wait to use popular electronic book reader, library director Richard Fortin asked if she would help try it out.

"It was pure luck," Diket said Wednesday.

Fortin said the library's acquisition several weeks ago of three Kindles was sparked by his desire to keep up with new ways to get books into readers' hands.

He said e-book readers are a hot topic among librarians in the state.

"I'm not looking to replace books," Fortin said. "I'm supplementing books with new ways to access information. It's nothing new for libraries; the fastest and easiest way to access information has always been the library."

Fortin, who was hired as library director in April, said he's now looking at ways patrons might renew books via text message on their cell phones.

"If libraries aren't going in that direction, we're going to be obsolete," he said.

The Winthrop library will begin lending Kindles to patrons Aug. 9.

There's already a waiting list, and Fortin expects them to be so popular that borrowers will have to return them at the end of two weeks -- no renewals. More information is available on the library's website at www.baileylibrary.org/.

Fortin noted the library is simply meeting a public demand. Amazon -- which is where he bought the Kindles and downloaded the titles -- announced recently that electronic books outsold hardcover books on its market-leading website.

"The number of Kindle books (e-books) sold by Amazon.com has outpaced the number of hardcover books 143 to 100 over the past three months, the company said, and it has sold three times as many Kindle books in the first half of this year as compared to the first half of last year," Dan Nystedt wrote in the July 20 edition of PC News.

Having Kindles has put Winthrop's library on the cusp of a trend.

Maine Library Association President Sonja Plummer-Morgan said only a few member libraries around the state lend e-book devices to patrons, including the Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle and the Camden Public Library.

The Maine State Library and the Maine Regional Library System are planning a conference in September to talk about the impact of e-readers and e-books on public libraries. Information about that conference is available at www.maine.gov/msl/libs/tech/ereaders.htm

"So many people want to read in a variety of different manners, said Dean Corner, director of public services for the Maine State Library. "We're trying to adapt to those so we can meet their needs.

"Libraries across the country are trying to figure out what to do when there's no more CDs and DVDs and everything goes to streaming video," he said.

Amazon's Kindle was the first e-reader.

"It used to be just the Kindle, then the Barnes & Noble Nook, and now so many other companies manufacturing readers, it's difficult to keep up," Corner said.

Fortin said the Winthrop library paid $280 for each Kindle, then received a rebate when Amazon dropped the price, the next day, to $190.

The library also bought cases and a satchel for each Kindle so the borrower could have the power cord for recharging it.

After a week with the lightweight device that offers a dozen downloaded books in any size type -- Diket declared herself a fan.

"I love it," she said. "It's small and a lot thinner than I thought it would be. I'm a book person, but I'm looking into trying to get one for myself."

(Continued on page 2)

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