Kevin Kierans remembers the days of Dewey decimals recorded on three- by five-inch cards stored in the big, drawer-laden repository of the library.
He still has those cards but now he uses them for notes or bookmarks, a sign of the new reality libraries are experiencing.
A more telling sign? The number of e-books and downloadable audio books borrowed at the library increased 200 per cent in 2011 from the number accessed in 2010.
In real numbers, library patrons accessed 22,500 e-books and audible books.
“That’s something we really need to pay attention to,” said Kierans, director of libraries for the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.
That number alone is more than all the books – in any form – borrowed at the Logan Lake library, for example.
While it’s still a small portion of the one-million items borrowed in total through the TNRD library system last year, it’s still a significant portion that will do nothing but grow as more people start to use e-readers and MP3s to listen to books.
The growth of the electronic book sector is causing publishers, authors and libraries to rethink how the books are provided and accessed.
Concerns range from avoiding piracy to ensuring authors get reasonable payment for their books – unlike paper books that need to be replaced eventually, e-books can last forever – and other digital-management issues, Kierans said.
For example, the TNRD buys a certain number of licenses to provide access to books, much like Kierans – decades ago – might have bought actual copies of books for the shelves.
These electronic books, accessible on the TNRD library site (tnrdlib.ca), have a built-in “return date” – a time when the book will no longer be available on the device for the borrower to listen to or read.
That causes some confusion for people with a book on hold, Kierans said.
They see it still listed on the TNRD site, but can’t borrow it because they have no way of knowing all the licenses are in use.
People with a hold on a book receive an email when it is available for download.
Publishers are considering a limit on how long a book license exists, which could mean libraries need to buy the licenses again after, for example, a book has been borrowed a certain number of times.
Kierans said the library has no issue with buying licenses to continue providing e-books to patrons, because that’s what libraries do.
“We’re not opposed to having to pay because it’s a win-win for everyone.”
The loss of an equivalent overdue fine as a revenue source isn’t an issue for the library because e-books are still a small segment of borrowing, Kierans said.
But, the fact it is a portion that is growing so quickly now is something libraries have to be aware of and plan for, he said.
After all, this librarian of 27 years who said there’s nothing like a real book has not one but two e-readers.