In our Brave New Digital World, everyone can instantaneously connect to everyone else, and an avalanche of information (and misinformation) is available 24/7.
At least one time- honored and very human pastime casual reading has survived the revolution, though in an altered state.
Electronic books are the biggest game-changers ever to affect the publishing industry.
Publishers Weekly magazine recently reported on the findings of BookStats, the annual book industry sales survey, whose numbers are married to readership. In part, it addressed the most popular genre in readerdom adult fiction. "In 2011, e-book sales in adult fiction increased 117 percent, to $1.27 billion ... making e-books the largest single format within (the genre)."
What many e-book readers may not know is they can download e-books in most genres for free through the Sacramento Public Library's Digital Media Catalog at www.saclibrary.org. There, they will find 10,260 copies of 7,300 e-book titles, along with 7,010 copies of 4,832 audiobook titles.
"When I started working (at the Central Library) a year ago, we had only 2,000 copies of 1,457 e-books," said electronic resources librarian Amy Calhoun. "Now we're adding a few hundred copies of over 100 new titles every month."
Such free availability translates into high demand. From January through July, library patrons checked out 87,335 e-books and 36,047 audiobooks. Those titles are licensed by publishers to the library and distributed by the global company OverDrive. Part of OverDrive's service is creating and maintaining a platform that functions as a "virtual library" where patrons can download e-books and audiobooks to a variety of e-devices.
The Sacramento Public Library's numbers are big-time when compared with the e-book-lending programs at other library systems around the nation. But there are some related surprises.
E-book lending was the hot topic on several fronts at the American Library Association conference in June in Anaheim. There it was noted that in 2011 nearly 40 percent of libraries offered "no downloadable media," and that "62 percent of adult e-book readers did not know their libraries even offered e-books."
Libraries that have set up e-book-lending programs quickly discovered that not all their patrons are e-savvy. The Sacramento Public Library took measures to address that. For one thing, it loans e-readers to patrons who want the convenience of e-books but not the expense of buying an e-reader, or the hassle of learning how to use it.
"We loan Nook (e-readers) that are pre-loaded with 50 titles in various genres," Calhoun said. "They're available at all 28 library locations, at least two per branch. Patrons can check them out for three weeks, but they're so popular there's a (long) waiting list."
In a more interactive and tremendously popular program, the library sponsors workshops and classes in which librarians work one-on-one or with groups of people who want to learn e-reader basics and how to download e-books from the Digital Media Center. Many of those patrons own e-devices but aren't quite sure how to use them. Others want a guided, hands-on sampling of e-devices to help them decide which one to buy.
"You can schedule an appointment and sit with a librarian (916-264-2920) or just walk in," Calhoun said. "People can see what's out there without having the pressure of a salesperson."
"You can make an appointment at an Apple store to talk with a genius, or talk with our geniuses," said Sacramento Public Library director Rivkah Sass. "We have our own genius bars in 28 locations. We help people understand that (the e-scenario) is just technology, they're not going to break it. With e-books, we never lose a copy, they never wear out and never get eaten by the dog.
"At the same time, print books aren't going away," she added. "They are the main part of our collection, and they don't need batteries or an Internet connection."
On July 18, the Central Library held its biggest-ever "e-reader petting zoo." Librarians at four tables helped about 40 people who wanted to know more about the e-world.
At one table, a librarian walked patrons through the basics of a dozen e-devices iPads and Kindles, Kobos and Nooks. Don't forget, they reminded their "students," smartphones function as e-readers, too.
At the other tables, librarians held step-by-step demonstrations of the library's e-book downloading process for those who brought their own e-devices. (For upcoming petting zoos and classes, click on "Events" at www.saclibrary. org.)
Retired social worker Richard Baum of Hood said he reads "four to five books a week, mostly adventure and Civil War history."
"I bought a set of tires, and (the store) gave me a Barnes & Noble Nook reader as a premium. I'm here to learn how to use it," he said. "Until today, I wasn't even aware of the library's e-book program."
After his tutorial, he said with a smile, "Now I know how to download the library's e-books. It's easy, and I can barely do anything on a computer."
Cathy Little of Sacramento stood by the e-reader demonstration table, studying the choices. She's a fifth-grade teacher at Leonardo da Vinci School.
"A lot of my students have e-readers," she said. "When I assign book reports, they say, 'I downloaded the book to my Kindle.' With Kindles in my classroom, I need to take the plunge and get onboard. But first I want to check out the different e-reader formats.
"I did reserve a preloaded Nook. That way, I can try it before I buy an e-reader. The idea that the library has 7,000 e-book titles appeals to me."
As the e-book/e-reader combine continues its relentless erosion of the print-book beachhead with publishers scrambling to devise new business models to stay above the waterline the question becomes: Will electronic media eventually overwhelm brick-and-mortar libraries and bookstores? (The Borders debacle comes to mind.) Will the day come when we no longer need libraries?
"No," Sass said emphatically. "One reason libraries are vital is because we have the huge responsibility of developing the next generation of readers. E-books don't offer any human connection.
"Yes, we're teaching people how to use e-devices, but technology is useless if you can't read," she said. "There is a reason why children's books are not readily available as e-books. It's because the experience of sitting down and reading one-on-one with a child is unique and not the same as reading an e-book."
Still, independent publisher Sourcebooks recently announced its "Hear It, Read It Classics" program an indicator of the speed at which the e-book juggernaut is moving.
So far, the program offers eight abbreviated e-book editions of classic stories, with more to come. They feature illustrations, sound effects, music and pages that automatically turn themselves. Titles include "The Secret Garden," "Treasure Island" and "Little Women." The company promotes the e-books as "75 minutes of education disguised as entertainment." To date, the e-books are compatible with the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and the computer, with Kindle and Nook to follow.
"We're not done with e-devices or e-books," observed Calhoun. "They will always be changing and there will always be something new to learn. And the library will always be there to help."
Electronic resources librarian Amy Calhoun oversees the Sacramento Public Library's e-book lending program the Digital Media Catalog where checkouts are rising rapidly each month, she said 20,000 in May alone.
"The vast majority are for general and literary fiction, mystery and romance," Calhoun said. "People still prefer print editions for nonfiction, how-to, cookbooks and children's books."
E-LIBRARY CHECKOUTS RISING
These are the top 10 checkouts (and their genres) from the e-library from January through July. Checkouts in that seven-month period were up 250 percent over checkouts for that same period last year.
1. "Explosive Eighteen" by Janet Evanovich (mystery)
2. "Fifty Shades of Grey" by E.L. James (romance)
3. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett (fiction/literature)
4. "The Litigators" by John Grisham (fiction/ suspense)
5. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson (mystery)
6. "Smokin' Seventeen" by Janet Evanovich (mystery)
7. "The Confession" by John Grisham (fiction/thriller)
8. "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand (nonfiction)
9. "The Affair" by Lee Child (suspense)
10. "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain (historical fiction)