Come October, Blair County librarians may be seeing fewer lost books or ripped pages, creased corners and notes in book margins.
After much demand, owners of Kindles, Nooks, iPads, iPhones and other devices that can be used to read electronic books will soon have the option of checking out e-books online. And no worries about due dates either - the book is automatically removed from one's device after the lending time period is up.
"I think that this may open up an entirely different demographic for the library to serve," Altoona Library Executive Director Jennifer Knisely said. "The library sometimes has this reputation of being this stodgy place filled with old books. If we can get a new generation of people who are tech-savvy realizing the value of the public library, I think that can only be good for us."
Knisely said libraries in other counties, including Cambria and Centre, have offered an e-book service for at least a year and a half.
"We'd get some calls from Blair County folks who wanted a library card just for e-books," Lyn Meek, director of the Cambria County Library System, said.
"We'd tell them, 'Just wait. Altoona is on the way.'"
As in Centre and Cambria, Knisely said, the Altoona library is working with Overdrive, a digital distributor of e-books and other digital content. The company supplies 15,000 public and school libraries globally.
To use the service, readers add a book to their cart, note which device they have and what library they use, then input their library card number. Within minutes, the book is on their device, ready to be read.
Knisely said just like with traditional books, there will be one copy of a title available, so readers may need to wait if their book of choice is already on someone else's device.
"I think it'll help in a few ways," Becky Claar, children's librarian at Huntingdon Library, said. "There are a lot of people who are so busy that they can't make it in to the library. But if we offer e-books, maybe they can go to our website and download a book that they might not be able to get. That'll help with circulation, too."
When the service was initiated a year and a half ago, Meek said, people had a lot of questions about the service. But since then, she said, people are registering for library cards specifically for that service.
"Even the smallest library feels like they're offering quite a state-of-the-art service," Meek said. "It puts everyone on a level playing field."
But do people in Blair County actually have e-readers? Matt Markham, a sales associate at Best Buy in Logan Town Centre, said that roughly 60 to 70 people come into the store daily ask about e-readers and roughly 20 to 30 end up purchasing one. Library lending is a frequent topic of discussion for customers as well.
"That's actually one of the major questions now - if they can receive library books," Markham said. "That's definitely going to be a huge deal because a lot of people do download books from libraries."
Knisely said the initial lending period will be two weeks and the first e-book titles will be comprised mainly of adult fiction best-selling authors, crossover young-adult fiction and "hot topic" nonfiction. The common assumption might be that these would cost less for the library to bring in, but she said stocking digital shelves with e-books actually costs a bit more than their physical counterparts.
"But at the same time, looking over the longevity of the material, we're never going to have to replace it because it was damaged or because it was lost," Knisely said.
For those worried that the e-book will phase out the physical book, have no fear. Meek said since the inception of e-book lending, interest in hardbacks and paperbacks has not dwindled. Knisely doesn't anticipate a problem either.
"I still read books, don't get me wrong," Knisely said. "It doesn't take the place of a book. It's just another way to experience reading."
Mirror Staff Writer Rich Coleman is at 946-7457.