By Wade Coggeshall
INDIANAPOLIS — Officials with the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library system have noticed a trend. After each holiday season since 2010, the number of patrons using electronic reading devices has doubled.
"All sources pointed toward a similar situation this year," said Mike Williams, IMCPL's area resource manager.
The libraries are trying to meet that demand through both their collections and tutorials.
They started a helpline (275-4500) where residents may call any day between 1 and 5 p.m. and get assistance on setting up any brand of eReader, as well as how to download from the library's collection of nearly 40,000 free eBooks, audiobooks, and digital music. The helpline was to start last Wednesday, but the blizzard prompted IMCPL to close for the day. It will remain available through Feb. 2.
In addition, from 1-5 p.m. each day patrons may stop by the "Tinker Station" at the information desk in the Central Library's atrium to receive free personalized assistance on eReader use. Such stations also will be available throughout January at various IMCPL branches, including Wayne Township at 198 S. Girls School Road.
"We want to be able to help folks use our materials - something libraries have done since they started," said Williams. "This is just the latest incarnation of that idea."
Most of IMCPL's staff has at least received basic training on eReaders. Williams says approximately 30 employees are staffing the Tinker stations and helpline.
Demand seems to be there. Before the helpline officially opened on Thursday, Williams had at least eight voicemails from the day before. As far as digital use, through November patrons had downloaded 439,824 eBooks, audiobooks, and digital music from IMCPL. That's compared to 222,731 for all of 2011.
"We've made a significant investment in resources and materials to be able to provide our eReader owners and users with library content," said Williams. "We're in the content business. This is just another format for us."
That format is growing dramatically in popularity, at the expense of traditional configurations. According to Pew Internet, the number of Americans reading eBooks rose to 23 percent in 2012, compared to 16 percent last year. Over that same time period, the percentage of people reading printed books dropped to 67 percent this year. In 2011 it was 72 percent.
Electronic reading devices are available in a range of prices too, from a holiday-discounted $50 Kobo mini eReader to a $500 iPad.
Williams, for one, is encouraged to see eReadership growing.
"It allows the library to continue to be relevant to users all across the economic spectrum," he said. "And it shows people are still reading, whether it's a paperback or a hardback or an audiobook or an eBook. That's what libraries are about."
For more information on IMCPL, visit the website indypl.org.