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March 28, 2013

Who would have thought e-books would be so popular?

Cooperstown Crier

---- — When I was in library school 25 years ago, a future concept was presented that seemed absurd at the time. It was the notion you could read books on a small computerized device about the size of a pocketbook.

In the late 1980s, the idea of relaxing on the beach or in your backyard reading a book on a computer was laughable. Why would anyone give up an actual book to read something that might break or malfunction at any time?

Nobody’s laughing now. E-books are part of our culture these days and their popularity is rising. With the advent of online book ordering, the e-reader and the iPad, e-books are suddenly the most popular thing since sliced bread.

E-readers such as Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes-and-Noble’s Nook have become hot gift items for parents, grandparents and anyone else not of the Y generation (who are already sold on them). It has suddenly become easy to get hooked on a way of reading that even the most traditional among us might balk at.

For an “old” librarian like me it is not an easy transition. I love books and being among them. It’s exciting to be surrounded by so much information in the workplace. It’s like an art lover soaking in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. To be in a truly “paperless society” where a library could conceivably be a computer terminal in an empty building is a difficult notion to accept. I would be part of a profession that would no longer feel like the “gatekeeper of knowledge.”

I personally had no great interest in e-readers, since to me, there’s nothing quite like holding a book in my hands. But my kids decided to give me a Nook for Christmas so I could no longer ignore the technology. I was actually happy to have an e-reader because I could finally become somewhat “literate” in what our patrons go through when checking out e-books through our Four County Library System’s “Download Zone.” It’s an interesting process.

Downloading books from the 4CLS website is supposed to be as easy as one, two, three, but as I discovered, that’s not quite the case (it never is!). You can’t just download a desired title to your e-reader or iPad. Initially, you have to download free software to your computer that in turn allows you to download the books to your reading device.

After that, it’s a two-step approach of downloading e-books to your computer and then “dragging” them over to your e-reader. It takes a bit of practice to get used to the nuances of “dragging” but then you’re home free.   

Well, sort of.

You still have to get accustomed to the e-reader. It takes a while to get used to turning pages with a “touch” of your finger. Often you “touch” the screen without meaning to or turn the e-book back a page instead of forward. It’s also cumbersome to refer back to an earlier part of a book. But after a while you adjust and regale in the idea of reading a book that isn’t bulky and can even provide its own night light. 

One consolation to us “old fogies” is that the invention of e-books is not going to change things overnight. First, e-books and e-readers are not cheap and not everyone can afford them. Second, many patrons complain that the library system doesn’t offer enough new books but it takes a long time to build up a collection. And third, many people insist on the “real” thing and want no part of the new technology. 

Still, there’s no question that e-books are here to stay and the more people get exposed to them the more their popularity will blossom. People like me have the best of both worlds. We know how to use the new technology, but can still snuggle up with a “real” book whenever we want. Our kids and their kids can deal with the “paperless society.” It won’t be here for a long time.

David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at