St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS – Most U.S. libraries lend e-books, but that’s news to the general public: Only 22 percent realize the fast-growing digital format is available for free, according to a new survey. And even fewer — 12 percent of e-book readers-have borrowed an e-book from the library in the past year, according to a poll released Friday by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

“I’m a little surprised,” Patrick Wall, director of the University City Public Library in St. Louis, said Thursday when told about the survey. “Libraries are all trying to educate patrons.”

The Pew survey delves into the tangle of issues libraries face with the evolving e-book world.

Some of those might be higher than patron ignorance on a library’s list of concerns:


* E-books can cost libraries many times what a print book does. Last year’s big summer release, “A Dance With Dragons” by George R.R. Martin, was offered to the University City library at $19.95 for a hardcover, but a single ebook cost $85.

* Popular titles aren’t always available at any price. Big publishers are grappling with how to stay in business and sell digital content to libraries.

* Library users want more of every kind of material, but libraries don’t have unlimited money and find outdated or confusing copyright laws an obstacle.

* New owners of e-book readers say there is a learning curve, and it may take time before they decide to learn how to borrow digital books.

Sue Rudman of Edwardsville, Ill., has owned a Nook for less than two years. She knows her library has e-books, but says “you tend to get dependent on having your own stuff on your own reader.”

The 46-year-old mother of two has bought 37 e-book titles ranging from genealogy research to vampire novels. She reads several at a time, depending on her mood.


“I like to have my books. If I like a book, I want the option to go back and get it off my (Nook) shelf again.”

In the Pew survey, 32 percent of respondents said the e-book title selection at their library was “good.” But 56 percent of e-book borrowers said they had tried to get a title only to learn the library didn’t carry it.

Often, they don’t understand that the library is not allowed to buy a popular title, Wall said.

“Everyone has a different plan. Random House’s plan is different from HarperCollins, which is different from Pottermore.”

This week, the New York Public Library announced a new contract with Penguin books using 3M as a distribution service. Penguin had stopped selling books to libraries last fall, citing security concerns. Penguin was one of four major U.S. publishers not selling new e-books to libraries.

Of the country’s six big publishers, the Random House group has been the least restrictive, but it has raised prices (hence the $85 “A Dance With Dragons”).

Librarians report that they spend more time teaching patrons how to download books to e-readers, but at least one surveyed didn’t think that the emphasis on technology was all that new. “Showing patrons how to use digital content and e-book readers is not much different than showing people how to use the micro-film machine or our public computers except it might take a little more time,” a librarian told Pew.

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