Oregon State’s Valley Library offers e-book readers to patrons

Wander around Oregon State University’s Valley Library and there are plenty of students perusing the aisles browsing for books, or curled up into cozy chairs with a stack of hardbound novels. But as information technology advances, so does the library’s range of offerings.

OSU's Valley Library is now loaning out Amazon Kindles. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

While it doesn’t appear that books will be disappearing from the library’s shelves anytime soon, staff recognizes that the campus community is using a variety of new ways to access information, and that the library needs to adapt.  Which is why the library has started offering Amazon Kindles, electronic book readers that can store digital books, which are displayed, page-by-page, on a palm-sized screen.

Loretta Rielly, Interim Head of Collection Development, said the library has long wanted to provide more popular reading titles to patrons, but it has been too cost-prohibitive to stack shelves with new fiction and non-fiction titles that may only have a few years shelf-life. While there is plenty of classic fiction in the library, popular fiction doesn’t really have a place.

“We get people who ask us, “Don’t you just have something to read?’” Rielly said. That request fit perfectly with the library’s attempt to explore and incorporate new technology.

“We’re really committed to investigate new technologies,” she said.

Kindles provide a way to make a large array of popular titles, as well as classics, available in a slim, portable reader that can be checked out for two weeks at a time.  The library originally purchased six Kindles last summer, and immediately had about 60 requests to use them. Now the library has 12 Kindles, which currently contain 121 downloaded e-books. The readers and e-books are purchased using library gift funds.

Titles are purchased from Google on request from patrons, to insure that librarians aren’t guessing what readers want. What patrons are looking for varies greatly. For instance, they’ve had more requests for “Pride, Prejudice and Zombies,” than for the Austen original, but there have been plenty of requests for the classic version as well.

Claire Semadeni, who oversees the Kindle project, said they’ve been keeping track of user information, and about 48 percent of those checking out Kindles are undergraduates. The rest is a mix of graduate students, staff and faculty. So far, the only issue they’ve had in loaning out the technology, other than demand far exceeding availability, is that Kindles can get damaged in freezing weather, so they now carry warning labels.

Kindles display in black and white only, which limits their use in terms of offering digital textbooks. Publishers also are hesitant to make their textbooks available on a digital platform, because of digital rights management. So the days of students casting aside a heavy backpack for a slim e-reader are still far away.

“It’s the obvious place for e-books to go, but right now there isn’t a good platform for it,” said Anne-Marie Deitering, Franklin McEdward Professor for Undergraduate Learning Initiatives, who is part of the team looking into the Kindle program.

Deitering and Rielly guess that most of the patrons checking out Kindles are doing so to get used to the technology, and eventually, the library will focus less on providing e-book readers, and more on actually providing e-books for download to user’s home readers. But the legal and logistical details of that project are still being worked out.

For now, patrons hoping to check out a Kindle from the library are in for a wait. Up to twenty weeks, that is. Currently there are 120 holds in place for the dozen in circulation. Library staff expects demand to slow, but for now, there are plenty of people clamoring for a look at a new kind of book.

For more information, see http://osulibrary.oregonstate.edu/kindle

~ Theresa Hogue

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