Print collections take a hit as public libraries invest in eBooks

FREDERICK, Md. — Bookshelves at Frederick County, Md. public libraries may look a little different as the number of paperbacks disappear and their online collection grows.

“Our non-fiction items that used to be ‘how to build a deck,’ and ‘how to bake a pie,’ people can go to YouTube and get a nice little video on how to repair that toilet. They don’t check out a book anymore,” said Darrell Batson, the county’s public library director.

Batson added the trend is hard to ignore, in the last year, electronic usage jumped by five percent. The libraries circulation is now 22 percent electronic, and that number is expected to grow. And because of the surge in popularity, Batson has redirected funds, buying less print copies and expanding the online library.

“I only have so much money, and as one item increases in popularity, there’s only so many ways you can cut up the pie,” Batson said.

However, print is still predominant and the library buildings get frequent visitors. There was a slight decrease year to year, but more than one million people visited Frederick County Public Libraries in 2014.

“I enjoy getting my hands on the books. I actually like the feeling of the pages, and I like to compare different books together” said Donna Logee, who visits C. Burr Artz Library on a weekly basis.

Batson called it a balancing act between print lovers and those who prefer the ease of digital copies. He said electronic usage is increasing, but the library is a vital resource in the community, and he’s focused on adapting it to fit the needs of the changing population.

“It’s what the customer wants. We’re not here because it’s our personal library and we select the books that we want to read. We’re here to serve the community, the taxpayers. So yes, we are changing and it’s a very different balancing act, and no ones happy on either side because each side is very passionate about their reading formats. But, we have to change because the people we serve are changing,” Batson said.

Electronic copies can be up to five times more expensive than print, so the library is limited in the number of electronic books they can offer, but Batson said they’re working with publishers to try and get the price down.

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