Shawn Douglas

Thursday - Oct 13, 2011

E-books and e-readers doing well in libraries, education centersIn August 2008, Mark Mahaney, a leading business analyst with Citigroup, stated “the Kindle is becoming the iPod of the book world.” He reckoned that the Kindle — Amazon’s highly-popular e-reader — would sell roughly 380,000 units in 2008.

Fast-forward to 2011. Ever secretive of their sales numbers, Amazon is estimated to have sold between 5.4 to 8 million Kindles in 2010, with even larger numbers likely by the end of the 2011 sales year. Even if we use the more conservative number, we’re still talking about 14 times the units being sold a couple of years later. It’s difficult not to translate that to significant adoption of e-books and other digital written content, especially with EPUB-based platforms like the iPad strongly playing in the mix.

Of course, there are plenty of other signs that e-books and e-readers are becoming more popular, especially in libraries and the education sector. Let’s look at a few of those indicators.

1. Libraries: The folks at Library Journal released the results of their second annual Ebook Penetration & Use in U.S. Libraries Survey, and those results tell a story of e-books gaining ground in libraries around the country. According to their results, compared to last year there has been a 10 percent increase in the number of public libraries offering e-books, with a 184 percent increase in the average number of available e-books. Academic libraries saw small increases as well, though not as pronounced as the public realm.

Recent news stories seem to support Library Journal’s survey. Whether it’s high-profile entities like the U.S. Air Force or small local libraries like the one in Lexington, Nebraska, interest in and adoption of e-books at libraries is increasing. “We’re using mobile devices like tablets, netbooks, and smart phones more than ever,” Air Force Services Agency administrative librarian Melinda Mosley told the Air Force. “We’re interested in providing service to our customers anywhere, anytime, in addition to providing face-to-face services at our libraries.”

A similar story is told in the city of Lexington, where Kathleen Thomsen works as the director of the Lexington Public Library. “We have so many people coming in and inquiring about e-books,” she told the Lexington Clipper-Herald. “The new technology is really growing.”

Yet while interest in e-books is increasing, both Mosley and Thomsen paint a similar picture of one of the speed bumps along the way: there’s a learning curve to using e-readers and e-books. In each case the additional component of “how do I use this?” comes into play. The solution is on-site education in the form of “sandbox sessions” and “technology petting zoos,” allowing people from all walks of life to learn how to use emerging reading technologies to read the content they want.

Jim Hahn, a researcher at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who performed a recent case study on technology and the library, agrees that despite the popularity of e-books and e-readers, educational and utilization-related barriers still slow the march of tech saturation in the library.

“Librarians have a sense that today’s rapidly changing technological landscape should be reflected in the services they provide,” he said in his case study. “But while enthusiasm and curiosity are in abundance in the library technical field, consensus on precisely where and how to merge library-specific expertise and emerging digital tools remains elusive.”

Continue on for three more indicators…