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The proliferation of e-books is seen as a trendy convenience by some, but often as a headache by librarians

June 16, 2012
Story, photo by Steve Browne , Marshall Independent


In the new world of e-media, many people are finding digital books and periodicals a convenient alternative to print, but traditional institutions such as bookstores, newspapers and libraries are having to do some deep thinking about the future of the written word.

John Amundson has a Nook Color, an e-reader device developed by Barnes & Noble.

Article Photos

Southwest Minnesota State University senior Megan Gullickson shows some of the Nooks available at the university’s Barnes & Noble bookstore. The bookstore carries four models of the Barnes & Noble brand of e-readers, ranging in price from $99 to $249.

"I use it almost every day," Amundson said, "mainly for reading, but it also has the WiFi capability and I like that. I actually pre-ordered it when it first came out. I'm glad I got the Color because it's self-lighting and I can read in bed with it."

Amundson estimates he's read 30 to 40 books on his e-reader since he bought it.

Nook Color's main competitor is the Kindle Fire, a little pricier at $199. A Sony e-reader can be had for $99, but it seems people are willing to pay more for more features.

Dustin Turgeon, Marshall Wal-mart sales clerk, said no Sonys were sold last month, compared to 35 Kindle Fires and 99 Nook Simple Touches.

"We sell a lot of Kindle Fires," Turgeon said. "It's a cross between a tablet and an e-book. You can browse the Internet and play games."

A lot of people on the go seem to like the e-reader for the convenience its offers. Todd French, fitness floor supervisor at the Marshall Area YMCA, notices a lot of people who like to put them on the treadmills and exercise bikes.

"It's getting to be more and more popular and it keeps them motivated for exercise," French said. "It seems to be convenient to get their workout completed in a timely fashion, to get their mind in a book."

But as readers drive the demand for electronic print, librarians are discussing how to handle the transition.

"E-books are not a good deal for libraries," said Marshall-Lyon County Library Director Holly Martin Huffman. "I personally don't see print going away, and I don't think libraries will become extinct."

According to Martin Huffman, publishers charge libraries as much as three times what they charge individual consumers, and often limit the number of times an e-book can be downloaded. And people have the misconception an e-book sold to a library can be lent out to different people simultaneously. They can't.

"People get impatient," Martin Huffman said. "They think there's no waiting line."

In a very real sense, this is history repeating itself.

"Publishers didn't use to like selling print books to libraries," Martin Huffman said. "It's clear this is coming, but right now we can't satisfy the public with what the publishers charge."

Martin Huffman cited the vulnerability of digital archives and frequent changes of format.

"When digital archives change the format many libraries find they've made huge investments in equipment no longer used," Huffman said.

Another concern Huffman cited was the time library staff spend helping people with their e-readers.

"It's very time-consuming to help with devices, there's not enough staff," Huffman said. "Grandmas come in with the device still in the box and say, 'Make it work.' We're becoming tech teachers."

But all in all, Huffman sees the transition as positive, though not without bumps on the road. E-books offer the convenience of access to books and periodicals from the home, 24 hours a day. And there are huge resources of books in the public domain available.

"I like to think of life as life-long learning and early childhood education," Huffman said.

The following was contributed by the Marshall-Lyon County Library

"Until near the end of his life, Ray Bradbury resisted one of the innovations he helped anticipate: electronic books, likening them to burnt metal and urging readers to stick to the old-fashioned pleasures of ink and paper.

But in late 2011, as the rights to "Fahrenheit 451" were up for renewal, he gave in and allowed his most famous novel to come out in digital form. In return, he received a great deal of money and a special promise from Simon & Schuster: The publisher agreed to make the e-book available to libraries, the only Simon & Schuster e-book at the time that library patrons were allowed to download."

Ray Bradbury died June 6.



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