More Allen County readers are opting to pick up library materials from the comfort of their home instead of by making a trip to their nearest branch.
The library offers digital copies of popular books for readers and researchers to save for free to their home computers. Whether its the audio-book version of Dan Browns latest novel or the text and scanned pages from a local history volume, more library patrons are going digital.
In Allen County, odd titles like Virginia County Records and a Fort Wayne city directory from 1870 are among the popular texts that library patrons have downloaded in recent weeks.
The Allen County Public Library provides almost 8,000 titles from its genealogy collection for patrons to browse, view and download to their personal computers for free. An additional 2,088 popular fiction and non-fiction titles are available for leisure readers to download.
The genealogy texts are the most popular digital books that the local library offers. More than 1 million digital-text versions of genealogy materials have been downloaded since June 2008.
In comparison, patrons have downloaded audio-book files 18,000 times since the beginning of 2009 from the leisure-reading collection.
When the genealogy center launched its digital collection in 2008, genealogy Manager Curt Witcher hoped it would act as a springboard for researchers and spur them to make a trip to Fort Wayne to take advantage of the local resources.
We couldnt buy this kind of advertising, Witcher said.
But he also believed it would better serve the many genealogists living here if the library could put more information at their fingertips, he said.
The library sought grants and financial help from its foundation to pay for the digital scanning and making the documents searchable. The non-profit Internet Archive scans the materials and hosts the Web site, which draws about 1 million visitors a month, Witcher said.
Digitized genealogy materials have no copyright, allowing the library to duplicate them. Eventually, Witcher would like to make the centers 100,000 public-domain materials available on the Internet , he said.
Currently the most popular download is the Yorkshire Marriage Registers, West Riding, Vol. 2 from 1914. Internet patrons have downloaded the text more than 3,300 times, library spokeswoman Cheryl Ferverda said.
Marriage records are important resources for genealogists, but library officials arent sure why that volume is so popular, she said.
But the five most downloaded genealogy books are related to the British Isles. Witcher believes many current residents of the United Kingdom – not just British descendants living in San Fernando, Calif., or Kalamazoo, Mich. – are using those resources, he said.
Deb Eidson, 60, of Monroeville has taken advantage of the digital collection to research township schools and her own family history.
Eidson frequently used the History of the Upper Maumee Valley at the downtown library and hoped to buy her own copy. She searched the Internet and came across the librarys Internet Archive and in 10 minutes was able to download both volumes to her home computer, she said.
The searchable text makes it easier to find a name that is not listed in the books index, Eidson said.
Local readers opting for lighter reading such as French Women Dont Get Fat prefer to download audio books from the librarys collection so they can listen while they exercise, work or sit on the beach, library staff said.
These listeners are more likely to be in their teens, 20s or 30s, Ferverda said.
Younger readers are more accepting of new technology, are used to looking at a small screen and are more likely to own a handheld device that will play the files, said Mollie Pharo, collection development manager for the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library.
The Allen County Public Library provides some audio downloads that can be heard from any MP3 player. Some iPod-compatible titles are also available, said Kathy Witwer, the librarys adult bibliographer.
The library works with a vendor called Overdrive to provide the digital files. Patrons choose a title and enter their library card number to download the file. The file is stored on their computer for 14 days before disappearing. Listeners dont have to worry about overdue fees, fines due to damage or losing the book, Witwer said.
Subscribing to Overdrive costs the library $21,000 a year. In addition, the library pays a monthly $3,500 fee. Witwer spends $1,500 a month to buy about 30 titles, which are typically less expensive than hard copies of books, officials said.
The library introduced the Overdrive service in spring 2008, Witwer said, and circulation took a leap this summer.
But the 18,402 audio-book downloads so far this year are a fraction of the 205,550 audio books that have circulated this year, Witwer said.
St. Joseph County Public Library has watched its circulation of digital audio books grow during the past three years, library spokesman David Hanna said.
Circulation of iPod-compatible files is on pace to increase 50 percent this year compared with 2008. The files are frequently on loan, and officials are considering expanding the service to two branches. Patrons now must go in person to the main branch to download and remove files, Hanna said.
The limited circulation plus the cost to pay for Overdrive and to buy the new digital books might make it seem as if its not worth it, Evansvilles Pharo said.
But these are going to become more popular. This is a big chunk of the future here.
Circulation isnt as high as Allen County library staff would like, either. But to attract more readers, the library has to offer more titles, which takes money that could reduce purchases for other materials, such as books, Witwer said.
Offering a better selection is a challenge for libraries, not just because of tight budgets but also because not all publishers make their books available in digital format for libraries. They fear that consumers wont buy the titles and instead will borrow them for free from the library.
But those publishers forget that libraries have offered free books for years without hurting the profits of publishing houses. In fact, Witwer said, people are more likely to buy a book at the store if they have borrowed it first at the library.