Area book lovers will soon have access to $1 million worth of electronic books, thanks to a joint book-buying pool that includes the Greenfield and West Allis libraries along with 385 libraries around the state.
The only hitch is that local folks will have to share the books with patrons from those other libraries for the new titles.
Even so, Greenfield Library Director Sheila O'Brien expects waits for best-sellers to go down drastically. Right now book enthusiasts usually wait four to six weeks for a new Stephen King yarn or a Ken Follett best-seller, she said.
Just how much that less the wait will now be is hard to tell, she said.
Regardless, the fact that patrons are better served is an important component, said Michael Koszalka, director of the West Allis Library.
"This service is increasing in popularly," Koszalka said. "We're happy the patrons are being served."
The pool has started buying e-books and, as the year goes on, more and more titles will be available for download onto devices like iPods and other MP3 players, Kindles, Sony eReaders, Nooks, and iPads. People can download at home, if they have a wireless connection or a USB cable connection between their PC and ebook reader. If not, they can go to a library or anywhere where there is a Wi-Fi network.
Electronic books can be checked out for up to three weeks. When the time is up, the books will disappear from the user's reader, O'Brien said.
Checking out e-readers
Patrons who don't have an e-book reader needn't worry. This spring, the Greenfield Library will get in a bunch of e-readers, already loaded with books, that can be checked out.
The library wants to offer families a chance to try out the e-readers, O'Brien said. That way, families can decide if they like such a reading format before they invest in e-readers of their own, though the prices have come down in recent months.
West Allis Library officials thought about providing e-readers, Koszalka said, but didn't have the extra money this year.
"But we'll keep a keen eye on the Greenfield program," he said.
Sharing and bearing the costs
The 385 libraries in the pool donated $700,000 toward the $1 million pool purchase. The rest will be from the state Department of Public Instruction that has earmarked $300,000 in federal grant funds to go to the effort.
Greenfield's contribution was $2,650 while the West Allis contribution was more than $9,000. Shares were based on community population and library use, Koszalka said.
The beauty of so many libraries joining together is that they can get the best prices and buy many more titles with their $1 million than the members could individually, O'Brien said.
That's a big reason why West Allis went in with the other libraries, even though it has reservations tied to the fact the pool's book buyers will not consider local tastes and preferences in their selections, Koszalka said.
"Each community is different in terms of what citizens want to read or watch," he said.
While the West Allis Library got extra money from the city to cover this year's cost, there are no guarantees for 2013, Koszalka said. Without the additional stipend, being part of the buying pool next year would eat into the regular budget for books and other materials, he added.
In Greenfield, the contribution did not reduce the library's normal book budget at all, O'Brien said.
"It's an enhancement, not a replacement," she said.
The book buying budget is back up to normal this year after being cut last year, she said. Plus, the Greenfield Public Library Foundation has pledged another $10,000.
And even though best-sellers will be available on ebooks, the Greenfield Library will continue to buy a hardcover and a paperback edition and the book on audio, O'Brien said.
Library officials will watch the buying and borrowing over the year, Koszalka said, noting that officials haven't given up on the idea of forming smaller buying pools in just Milwaukee County or in southeastern Wisconsin.
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