Readers connect with new media through library program

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Cassandre Korvink-Kucinski, an 11-year-old of McCandless, couldn't wait to go home to get to her computer. But she didn't want to play games or log into Facebook.

Cassandre wanted to read.

She and her mother had just left the Digital Bookmobile, an 18-wheel, air-conditioned tractor-trailer filled with computers, e-readers and flat screen televisions all meant to help library patrons learn how to access e-books, audiobooks and videos from anyplace with an Internet connection.

"They showed me how to download everything," Cassandre said after leaving the truck, which last Thursday was parked outside Northland Public Library in McCandless. "It was just an awesome experience."

The visit to Northland was just one stop for the Digital Bookmobile, which is traveling to libraries and book festivals around the country at a time when local libraries are expanding the number of digital materials they offer. On Friday, the bookmobile visited Mt. Lebanon Public Library.

The 45 libraries that make up the Allegheny County Library Association, of which Northland is a part, now offer patrons access to about 28,000 e-books, audiobooks and videos through library websites.

This year, Allegheny County quadrupuled funding for e-books and other digital content -- from $25,000 last year to $100,000 this year, said Sandra Collins, director at Northland. "We need to stay with the times," she said.

Nineteen percent of adults in America said they own an e-book reader or tablet, according to a February study by the Pew Research Center. And 12 percent of Americans age 16 and older said they have borrowed an e-book from a library, according to another Pew study conducted over the past year.

Northland started offering some digital materials in 2005. But Ms. Collins said demand for e-books has jumped since last fall when OverDrive, the company that operates the e-book database and the Digital Bookmobile, began allowing customers to download the e-books onto Amazon Kindle devices.

In recent months, patrons at Northland have borrowed about 2,700 e-books per month, Ms. Collins said. Northland Public Library, which serves Ross, McCandless, Franklin Park, Marshall and Bradford Woods, lends a total of about 90,000 books each month.

Developing a digital collection isn't cheap, Ms. Collins said. If the library purchases one copy of an e-book, only one patron can download the book at a time, just like a standard book.

Some e-books cost more than the corresponding print version. Publishers charge higher prices because e-books never wear out, said Sarah Beasley, coordinator of eResources at Carnegie Library.

"Publishers are concerned that there's this format that doesn't fall apart, doesn't get lost ... no replacement necessary," she said.

Random House recently raised prices on its e-books, but it sells all that are available to both consumers and libraries, she said. Other publishers such as Simon & Schuster sell e-books to consumers but not to libraries, she said.

The different strategies are part of publishers' attempts to figure out how to function in the digital age, Ms. Beasley said.

Visitors to the bookmobile said they were glad their library had embraced digital materials.

Rosemary McLaughlin, 62, of McCandless, said after leaving the bookmobile that she was "really interested" in downloading audiobooks from her home.

"I am thrilled to see that libraries are keeping up with the tech age," she said.

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Marcus Schwarz: or 412-263-1964.


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