Jim Behling once swore he never would use an e-book. But the 65-year-old retiree didn't lose the tech bug after he stopped working as an electrical engineer.
Of course, it helps that his wife works at the Salt Lake County's Whitmore Library, which adopted the OverDrive system for downloadable digital books more than two years ago.
Behling first used Barnes & Noble's Nook brand of e-reader, but soon switched to an Android cell phone for its backlighting capability. He has been hooked ever since.
"I always carry it," he said. "If I have to wait a few minutes in line somewhere, I can read something."
With the Salt Lake City Library system's roll-out of OverDrive on its own website last month, e-reader technology at Salt Lake Valley public libraries has at last come full circle.
By entering their names and library card numbers, patrons at the city's eight library branches can download three e-book titles at a time from the more than 500 hundred available. The city library hopes to grow its e-book collection to 2,000 titles by June.
Complementing the digital book collection is the launch of the city library's new website, loaded with events and public forum features, graphics and creative applications for children.
"It's a nice, big jump ahead for the library," said Andrew Shaw, spokesman for the Salt Lake City Library. "We've always known we've got to keep up with changing formats. This really helps us stay on the cutting edge for now."
The Salt Lake County library system's 18 branches sustained its highest volume of downloads ever in January and February, said Gretchen Freeman, associate director for technology. Circulation of the county libraries' estimated 15,000 available titles has doubled over last year.
"This was the Christmas of the e-reader," Freeman said. "The price point has really come down for these items, extending the power of the printed word. I think it makes readers out of people who weren't necessarily readers before."
Demand from library patrons for the new format isn't without problems. The libraries' OverDrive format doesn't work with Amazon's Kindle. The best-selling e-reader device is proprietary, only reading titles available for sale on amazon.com.
Yet e-book titles at public libraries are downloadable on plenty of other devices, including Barnes & Noble's Nook, Sony's e-reader, Apple's iPad and a bevy of cell phones.
Then there are fickle publishers, who can, at whim, alter the flow of e-titles to public libraries nationwide. For example, when HarperCollins decided last week to limit electronic circulation of its titles to 26 times before a new license deal must be purchased, two librarians organized a national online boycott at boycottharpercollins.com.
That sort of unexpected development is one reason the Salt Lake City Library waited to adopt the OverDrive system. "We're assuming it will be well-received by patrons, but it's hard to know what restrictions might come down from the publishers," said Deborah Ehrman, associate director for library experiences at the downtown branch.
E-books work much like physical books of old, with each electronic copy of a title checked out to only one patron at a time. If a library carries 10 copies of an electronic copy, for example, only 10 patrons at a time may read it.
The biggest difference comes at check-out. At the city library, electronic titles may be checked out for periods between one and four weeks. On the due date, the text simply vanishes from the e-reader.
The advantage of no late fees, though, means readers need to plan ahead to finish the book on time.
The selection of e-books, even given the county library's sizable collection, may seem limited due to publisher constraints on new titles, Behling said. If so, he opts to download classics that are in the public domain.
"I'm a big fan of free, period," he said. "It's part of my independent spirit, and also my Welsh-German frugality."
E-booked at the library
O Visit Salt Lake City Library's online, e-book and audiobook site at http://www.overdrive.slcpl.org; "Books to Go" at Salt Lake County Library's site at slcolibrary.org.