Show ‘em what we’ve got: the Fairfield (CT) Public Library’s “Tech Petting Zoo” and ebooks and ereaders at the library

January 3, 2011

Two weeks ago I was listening to NPR as I drove to a nearby town. They were discussing ebooks and their impact on book selling and publishing. Near the end of the segment, they had one listener ask about ebooks at the library:

This from Lynn in Grand Rapids, Michigan: Do you foresee a time when I can get an e-book from my local library? What will the move to electronic books do to our libraries?

And Lynn, we’ve had a lot of inquires about those who, well, can’t afford a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad.

NEARY: Well, that’s an interesting question, and to be honest, I don’t know the answer – that libraries would start lending them out. I think you can download books from libraries but – not on a Kindle, but on some of the other devices, you can. But as far as lending out an e-reader, that I don’t know about.

Mr. OSNOS: Well, I can answer the question as far as my local library in Connecticut. You can easily access e-books. Now, you won’t get them for the Kindle because that’s a proprietary system. But now that there’s a…

CONAN: That’s if you have your own reader, though.

NEARY: Yeah, he…

Mr. OSNOS: Yeah, you can read it as a PDF on a reader, or you can put it – actually convert it into – and use it on your iPad or on your Sony Reader. There are – the range of choices is expanding enormously.

I was glad that one of the guests at least knew that his library (a Connecticut library, woo!) had ebooks–and that they weren’t compatible with the Kindle, since Amazon doesn’t seem to want to play nice with libraries–but I was so disappointed that the other guests weren’t aware of what their libraries had to offer them. And I feel like that’s one of the biggest challenges we face on a day-to-day basis; getting the word out about all of the genuinely awesome things that we do at the library seems like such an uphill battle.

(Tangentially related: my husband and I just finished watching the most recent season of The Amazing Race and I was flipping out when, in the final episode, the contestants were trying to figure out some clues to decipher where to go next and one team called Information and another one desperately looked for a way to do a Google search when all they needed to do was call a library!)

Anyway, as I was listening to this segment, I really wanted to call in and explain that yes! many libraries already have ebooks available for patrons to download either through their own collection development efforts or because they’re part of a consortium or because they have access to ebooks through their state library. But more than that, I wanted to tell America that yes! some libraries even have ebook readers available for patrons to check out! My library in particular has three Kindles, three Nooks, and three Sony Readers that patrons can check out with preloaded titles as well as one title of their choice for three weeks. But alas, before I could call in, they were moving on to the next segment.

And double alas, it seems that patrons are always asking in surprise, “Oh, we can borrow ereaders?” Advertising that the library does have this technology–and that patrons can use it to see if they like it–has been tricky. The problem often isn’t what the library does or doesn’t have; it’s whether or not anyone knows we have it.

But one library in our area that’s doing a great job demonstrating that it’s at the forefront of new book formats and changes in the way people read books is the Fairfield (CT) Public Library. They have this awesome technology petting zoo that’s highly visible where patrons can handle a Kindle, a Nook, a Sony Reader, and an iPad. Everything’s locked down and staff members are on hand to answer questions patrons have about the devices. Our director was so impressed with Fairfield’s tech petting zoo that we’re hoping–no promises, though, as this is still in the figure-it-out-first stage–we can develop one of our own.

Our patrons not only expect us to be tech-savvy; they also want (and sometimes need!) our guidance in figuring out how to use new technology and new devices, and just as we offer classes on different kinds of software or databases, we should also be demonstrating these devices. Having ereaders available in the library gives us the opportunity to do hands-on instructions with curious patrons, and letting patrons check them out gives them the opportunity to take them home and use them in a comfortable environment.

But we need to not just have ereaders available in the library or for checkout; we’ve also got to let people know that we have them, that we’re still relevant, that ebooks aren’t killing the library. And Fairfield’s tech petting zoo is such a great way to do that!

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4 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. Erin  |  January 3, 2011 at 10:32 PM

    Technology petting zoo? What a cool idea!

    Also, there is an adobe program… the name escapes me at the moment… that you can use to view ebooks on a computer. We encourage our students to use it if they want to check out an ebook and actually read it (instead of just use it for 10 seconds to finish a paper.. which is usually the case).

    Hope you’re enjoying vacation :)

  • 2. Jessica  |  January 6, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    The adobe program is called “Adobe Digital Editions.” You would use it to download titles from websites (like Netgalley.com) to then transfer them manually to your device.

  • 3. Jessi  |  January 13, 2011 at 7:03 PM

    I just wanted to point out that the Allen County Public Library is starting their e-book program. There was a big thing in the paper about it. Just FYI :)

  • 4. Gretchen  |  January 13, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    Thanks, Jessi! It’s always nice to hear what’s going on back home. :)

    ACPL is using Overdrive; there’s a writeup at the Indiana News Center.

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