PARKERSBURG - While paper-based books remain the core of public libraries like the Parkersburg/Wood County Public Library, there has been growing interest in recent years in alternative formats like digital books - called e-books - and audiobooks.
Brian Raitz, director of the Parkersburg-Wood County library system, said the local library has worked in recent years to accommodate and address those changes by expanding its offerings and programs.
About six years ago, Raitz said the library began making audiobooks available to patrons, both on CDs and by digital download. In 2011, the local library system joined with others around the region in contracting with a company called Overdrive to begin offering e-books through the WVReads program.
Brian Raitz, director of the Parkersburg/Wood County Public Library, holds two copies of the same book, one in hardcover and one in digital format on an e-reader. The digital books are growing in popularity and public libraries are working to address patrons’ interests. (Photo by Wayne Towner)
"That allowed us to pool our resources together to build a collection," he said.
The past few years have seen a big growth in interest in e-books, Raitz said, primarily due to the proliferation of platforms that can use them, from computers and laptops to tablets, e-readers and smartphones.
While many e-books are available for private purchase, it has taken the companies that publish them some time to decide how - and if - those books would be made available to public library systems, Raitz said. He is familiar with at least three different systems currently being used by different publishers, ranging from a one-time purchase - at an elevated cost - to having a specific number of times it can be downloaded or checked out from the library before it must be purchased again by the library.
Through the WVReads program, Raitz said the library currently has about 12,400 e-books available and about 2,500 audiobooks. Some e-books may not be available for some reading devices - depending on the publisher - but most are usable by a variety of devices, he said.
Due to publishing restrictions, Raitz said many of the e-books are just like paper books in terms of circulation. If the library purchased one copy of the e-book, only one person at a time can have that copy checked out, just like a physical book, he said.
That is different for audiobooks under the program used by the library, he said. In the past few years, restrictions and protections on the audiobook format have been relaxing.
"They are available all of the time, so actually everybody in Parkersburg and Wood County could be listening to the same book at the same time," Raitz said.
The library has long offered beginner computer classes for its patrons who need help. Raitz said a couple of e-book-centered classes have also been offered, usually in the winter after the holiday gift season as new owners learn about their devices. The library will continue offering the classes any time interest rises to the point where it is feasible, he said.
Raitz said the local library system circulates about 1,400 e-books and audiobooks each month, which is about the same overall circulation as one of the branch libraries in Williamstown or south Parkersburg. The past year saw a total of 16,700 items circulated through the e-book and audiobook services at the local library. Growing interest and new applications on various devices are making it easier and easier to download various e-books.
"It's rising in popularity, but still books and regular audiobooks outstrip that, as far as circulation goes," he said.
Raitz said libraries have been dealing with changing formats in a variety of areas for several decades, from the original paper books to the addition of videocassettes - now replaced by DVDs - and beyond. While more is being done online and digitally, he believes there will always be a need for public libraries due to the wide range of community services and programs available.
The need for more and different formats has decreased the amount of money libraries can spend on new books, but that is something libraries have always dealt with, he added.
To download e-books, patrons just need a library card and a personal identification number (PIN) for that card. If they already have a card, they can do the other steps online or visit the local library. The library's website is www.park.lib.wv.us, where more information on the various services is available and brochures are available for printing.