Baltimore libraries will soon check out Nooks in addition to books

Pilot program to lend out electronic readers, pre-loaded with best-sellers

  • Nyilah Covington, second left, a librarian at the Pennsylvania branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, helps train the staff at the Reisterstown branch (l-r) librarian assistant Lamar Pinkett, librarian Greg Fromme, branch manager Vera Fattah and office supervisor Jacqueline Linton on the use of a Nook computers.
Nyilah Covington, second left, a librarian at the Pennsylvania… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
August 08, 2011|By Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun

After Crystal Langdon checks out 22 books from her library on Reisterstown Road on Wednesday, she plans to carry them home on the Metro in her purse.

And preteen boys enrolled at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy may soon be able to leave their book bags at home, because their reading lists for the entire year will fit into their back pockets.

For the past three years, library patrons have been able to download virtual books onto some electronic readers, such as Barnes & Noble's Nook, or the Sony Reader, for the three-week loan period that is standard for hardcover and paperback volumes.

But the Enoch Pratt Free Library is about to become a leader nationwide in bringing new technology to library patrons. The Baltimore library network is launching two pilot programs aimed at putting into customers' hands not just virtual titles, but the electronic devices with which to read them.

Starting Wednesday, a total of 28 Barnes & Noble Nooks that have been preloaded with 22 fiction and nonfiction best-sellers, classics and children's favorites will be available for loan at the libraries at 6310 Reisterstown Road. and at 400 E. 33rd St.

And this fall, the 68 middle-school boys attending St. Ignatius, an independent Jesuit school at 740 N. Calvert St., will receive special versions of the e-readers that contain the required reading for the entire academic year.

"People are changing the way they're reading, and the Pratt is embracing that transformation," says Carla Hayden, the library system's chief executive officer.

"There aren't a lot of times in a profession when there's a significant new development that's revolutionizing the whole industry. It's exciting to be a part of it."

Baltimore isn't the first library system in the nation or even in the state, to acquire and lend out the costly electronic readers. About two dozen lending institutions, including the library systems in Howard and Calvert counties, beat Baltimore to the punch.

But, the so-called City That Reads is only the second urban area — and by far the largest — to make electronic reading devices available to anyone with a library card. Baltimore has roughly four times the population of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the only other sizable city to implement a similar program.

Howard County rolled out its lending program for Nooks in October, and they were an instant, smash success. There are currently 573 holds for each of the 60 devices owned by the system. But a more than six-month waiting period to try out one of the devices hasn't deterred enthusiasts.

"Even with the long holds, some people not only check out a reader, but as soon as they return it, their name's right back on the list," says Valerie Gross, president and chief executive officer of the Howard County Library System.

"They might not be able to make the investment in purchasing their own device, but they tell us: 'I can't wait to borrow it again.'"

The waiting lists seem to indicate that for some, electronic readers are no longer merely a convenience that allows them to bring the equivalent of a crate of books on vacation without having to pay excess baggage fees, or to download novels at home and thereby skip a trip to the library. Howard County's long queues imply that some readers will pass over a bound volume in favor of a virtual book even when planning to read in the relative comfort of their bedrooms.

Senior citizens are some of the device's most passionate fans, and they tell Gross that they like being able to put aside their spectacles and adjust the font size on an electronic device, especially since the number of large-print books in circulation is limited. Environmentally conscious readers can mentally count up the number of trees that have been saved by eschewing physical books, which have pages made from wood pulp. And avid readers enjoy being able to forgo back strain by carrying dozens, if not hundreds, of titles on a device weighing less than half a pound.

Langdon, who lives in Owings Mills, plans to put her name in for an electronic reader at the Reisterstown branch the second the devices become available Wednesday.

She usually has between two and four books with her at all times, so she never runs out of reading material during her hour-long daily commute to and from her accounting job at M&T Bank. It's tiring, she says, to lug around the equivalent of a set of weights wherever she goes.

"I read a lot, and these devices are something I've been curious about," Langdon says.

"I see a lot of people riding the Metro downtown every day who have a Nook or a Kindle. But they're expensive, there are different kinds to choose from, and I haven't been sure I was ready to make the purchase. This will allow me to try it out."

Here's how the Pratt's program, which is being funded by private donations, will work:

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