Forget lugging home dozens of books from the library.
Three Greater Victoria Public Library branches, including the Juan de Fuca branch, will start loaning out Kobo e-readers Friday.
The sleek electronic readers are packed with 100 copyright-free classic books that come preloaded on all Kobos, as well as 15 current titles licensed by library.
“We picked some really popular titles that we’re always running out of at the library, and got those on the e-readers,” explained Rina Hadziev, GVPL head of technology services.
Some of those books include the full Stieg Larsson trilogy, which begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,, John Grisham’s latest, The Confession, and non-fiction titles by Bill Bryson, Stephen Hawking, and Margaret Trudeau.
Hadziev, who reads four books per week, tried out several e-readers while helping the library decide what brand to purchase. Ultimately she liked the Kobo for its ease of use and relatively low price.
The “e-ink” technology displays pages in grayscale without backlighting, making the screen resemble a paper page. A rubberized pad is used to flip the page, and font size and style are customizable.
The Kobo sells for $150. The volunteer group Friends of the GVPL bought 21 of them for the libraries, making the GVPL branches among the first in Canada to loan e-readers — its following a library in West Vancouver that started loaning Kindles last summer and one in North Vancouver that added Kobos to its collections in September.
“One of the goals for the library is to help close the digital divide,” Hadziev said, noting that she expects the e-readers to be particularly popular among seniors who perhaps cannot afford an e-reader or who would like to try one before purchasing their own.
“Younger adults interested in this technology generally already have digital device they can read on, like an iPhone,” Hadziev noted.
Last year the library saw a huge increase in demand for e-books. In 2010 library users borrowed more than 10,000 e-books, an increase of 162 per cent over the previous year. Digital audio-books also remained popular, with nearly 18,000 borrowed in 2010, an increase of 59 percent over 2009.
The library offers 12,500 audiobooks and 15,000 e-books that anyone with a library card can borrow. When the loan period ends, the downloaded file automatically becomes unusable, freeing it up for another person to download.
“This is the future of reading,” Hadziev said. “None of this technology is going to replace books, but it’s another way to enjoy reading and promote literacy.”
The new technology isn’t without it’s faults. For popular titles there are often long wait lists to access a copy of an electronic book –- an anti-intuitive notion in the digital age. Moreover, it often costs the library more to purchase an e-book compared to one in print.
While general consumers can buy an e-book for a fraction of the cost of the paper version, libraries pay a higher price for permission to lend the material out. Additionally, some electronic licenses need to be renewed annually, whereas physical books only need to be replaced when worn out.
Still, Hadziev thinks it’s a good investment for the library.
“Technology and information are so interwoven,” she said. “For the library to remain relevant, technology is something we’ve had to embrace.”
Hadziev expects the libraries will want to buy more in the future if the program is successful. “It would be great to see some at every library branch by the end of the year,” she said.
E-readers can be borrowed from the loan desks at the Central, Juan de Fuca, and Nellie McClung branches. They are available on three-week loan and are non-renewable and cannot be put on hold.
They are catalogued the same as a book in the library online database. To see if any are available visit www.gvpl.ca and type “Kobo” into the search bar or call the circulation desk, 250-413-0361.