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Electronics top library spending list

Digital downloads are popular among Tosans

Sept. 20, 2011

As Library Director Mary Murphy considers how to spend her book budget for 2012, she expects to spend fewer dollars on print and more on electronic media.

The Wauwatosa Public Library is way beyond other local communities when it comes to digital downloading, she said. Access to eBooks comes through participation in a statewide consortium. By paying more to the group, a larger number of titles would be made available electronically to local readers.

Owners of Amazon's Kindle are shut out from accessing library eBooks at this point. Amazon only permits paid downloads from its website.

"I'm hopeful that they'll revise their thinking," Murphy said.

There's also an industrywide debate on how to charge and circulate eBooks to ensure publishers get royalties. For instance, one publisher wants libraries to pay after every five reads for each title, which would prove cost-prohibitive for libraries, Murphy said.

She hopes some of those issues will be worked out quickly since the number of people reading eBooks is growing exponentially. The ability to curl up on the couch or in bed has made an electronic reader an attractive option, and for avid readers its a financially beneficial alternative to books.

In fact, library officials see electronic tablets as having so many potential uses for staff and patrons that the Library Board purchased five iPads for librarians to try out this summer.

"The staff's assignment was to become comfortable with them and make recommendations for how we can use them in the library," Murphy said.

Recommendations should be coming early this fall, but Murphy said she can see librarians carrying them through the stacks to look up where a certain item can be found within the Tosa library - or even at others within the Milwaukee County Federated Library System.

There also is a daily waiting list to use the desktop computers. For people who just want to send an email or read a news story, an iPad could be a faster solution. The computer stations could be left to people searching for jobs, using library databases and conducting research.

With the Wauwatosa School District putting iPads in the hands of a number of middle and high school students, Murphy sees potential for using the same learning apps in the library.

If library officials decide to invest in additional iPads for staff or patron use, private funds will be sought to pay for the devices, Murphy said.

Alderwoman Kathleen Causier, who sits on the Library Board, said she is not ready to endorse providing iPads to patrons but can see pressure coming to have the library transition to offering more electronic devices. She admits she still prefers to sit down with a traditional book, but said her reasons are more financial.

"Losing a printed book is one thing, but a lost iPad or a cracked screen could be costly," she said. "There are a lot of things the library will have to consider."

Murphy agrees that security issues will be important considerations, but Wauwatosa is not the first library to adopt iPads. Apple is willing to give advice to help during the transition, she said.

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