State’s libraries to beef up digital offerings.

From  by Kathy Walsh Nufer

Use of ebooks by Brown County Library patrons has grown 400 percent in the past year, and numbers are expected to continue to grow in 2012.

The state’s public libraries plan to purchase $1 million      in new content in 2012 for a Digital Download Center  sponsored by the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium. The purchase will dramatically expand the center’s offerings — including ebooks, audio books, videos and music — to Wisconsin residents.

“It should make library patrons very, very happy,” said Tasha Saecker, assistant director of the Appleton Public Library. “Nothing of this sort that I know of has been done before.”

Officials at the Brown County Library estimate that customers downloaded 7,500 ebooks in the past year, a 400 percent increase over 2010. And that number likely will jump this winter, as users begin using the Kindles, Nooks and other electronic devices they unwrapped during the holidays, said Dale Cropper, collections development manager for the Brown County Library.

Readers can download ebooks to their e-reading devices, or to their personal computers by using the library’s website so long as they have Adobe Digital Edition software installed.

“It’s not like they will replace printed books in the near future, but we definitely plan to expand our offerings to meet demand,” he said Thursday.

Downloading activity peaked last holiday season when people received their new devices and is expected to be “several times greater this year,” said Rebecca Petersen, director of the Manitowoc-Calumet Library System, which includes the public libraries in Brillion, Chilton and New Holstein.

Peterson’s libraries’ investment in ebook offerings will be possible by reallocating a portion of each library’s planned 2012 acquisitions budget. Contributing funds to the statewide purchasing pool will not increase their operational budgets, but it’s a significant outlay to keep pace with patrons’ interests.

The effort began in May when the Division for Libraries, Technology and Community Learning of the state Department of Public Instruction sponsored a statewide ebook summit. The summit’s primary recommendation was to establish a statewide ebook buying pool.

A summit committee and the library consortium later set a target goal of allocating $1 million for ebooks and audio book purchases.

In addition to $700,000 in funding from the state’s 17 library systems and its 385-member public libraries, the Division for Libraries, Technology and Community Learning will commit $300,000 in grant funds in 2012 for the ebook purchasing pool.

Currently, the Digital Download Center offers roughly 5,000 titles. Starting in January, two representatives from each library system will help select e-books and audio books for purchase, said Diana Sandberg, media librarian for the Appleton Public Library, who is one of the selectors.

The checkout period for ebooks and audio books varies from seven to 21 days. Patrons can now check out 10 items at a time.

“Digital downloading is growing all the time but it doesn’t mean people read less paper books,” she said. “It means they read more overall. Some go totally electronic but most stay with reading some print and some electronic.”

— Kathy Walsh Nufer writes for The Post-Crescent of Appleton

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