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Libraries survive the e-book era

Wednesday 30 Jan 2013 9:12 a.m.

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The increasing popularity of electronic reading devices, or e-readers, has come at the expense of the humble book. Sales have fallen dramatically.

So amidst this digital revolution, how are our public libraries making sure they stay relevant?

Some would say there's nothing like the feel of a paperback, but traditional books can't compete with the speed, convenience and cost of a book delivered to you wirelessly within seconds of being ordered.

"There's something quite sad about the book not being where you are at the time you want it, at home," says Greg Morgan, Auckland Libraries service development manager.

"The increase in e-materials is huge. If you look at the number of e-downloads in November 2011 against November 2010, the increase is over 150 percent, so it's really on the rise."

In response, public libraries are now transforming themselves in order to stay relevant in the digital age. In the US, they're planning the world's first book-less library. Inside Bibliotech, there will be no rows of books – instead it will look like the interior of an Apple store.

Here in New Zealand, nearly three-quarters of all public libraries now offer digital lending services. Instead of making a trip to the library, members can find and borrow their desired book online.

Once the lending period is over, your book is automatically 'returned' from your tablet or e-book, which means no overdue fines.

The service is proving popular, with the demand for Auckland Library's digital lending service increasing by more than 160 percent between 2011 and 2012.

But while the demand is huge, it seems supply is a problem for those using one of the world's most popular e-readers. Kindle owners aren't able to access any of the country's library services.

Amazon responded with a statement saying, "Public library books for Kindle are currently only available for libraries in the US that offer digital services from digital distributer Overdrive."

But New Zealand public libraries are in fact partnered with Overdrive, and several of the world's largest publishing companies also don't allow libraries access to their books.

And because there are no international or national fair use laws regarding digital books, it's publishers and companies like Amazon who decide what can be lent.

So until it becomes easier for libraries to lend a wide range of e-books physical libraries and their shelves of paperbacks will still have a place in our digital world.

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