BROCKWAY — Libraries in Jefferson County are now offering residents a new way to enjoy books through the use of modern technologies, as e-books are now available to be borrowed through the recently implemented Axis 360 platform.
"It's the future, and it's where it's going, and people want them, so we need to have them," said Leslie Barr, assistant director of the Mengle Memorial Library in Brockway, which has spearheaded the forays into e-book services in Jefferson County.
Axis 360 is an online platform libraries use to help people borrow free e-books via download. First, the library or the system to which the library belongs will purchase a number of e-books that patrons of the library can then download from their home computer or using the Internet in the library.
Darlene Marshall, Jefferson County Library System Administrator, said that it works in much the same way as the physical books — the library pays for them and then loans them out for free to residents.
The only difference is the platform.
Axis 360 marks what is the first time Jefferson County libraries have offered e-books. Close to the same time Axis 360 was purchased, the district to which Mengle Memorial Library belongs also bought into a similar program called Overdrive, which is a competitor with Axis 360 that provides much of the same service. They launched within about a month of each other.
Barr said part of the move to e-books was prompted by her, as she loves gadgets and technology and has done a lot of work in that regard at Mengle.
However, she said that, beyond that, the time was just right.
"It seemed about time," Barr said. "There were a lot of people coming in. The demand was apparent, and we wanted to help people out."
Marshall said that Axis 360 was chosen because she went to a training and found that Axis 360 would be more cost-effective for Mengle, which is buying the Axis 360 platform and purchasing books through it under the Jefferson County Library System, than purchasing e-books on Overdrive.
Barr explained that this is due to the differences between a library purchasing an e-book and a person doing the same.
The library is charged a yearly maintenance fee for the platform itself. Some platforms also have a yearly buy-in requirement, mandating that a certain amount be spent on books per year.
Axis 360 allows for the purchase of books as wanted and as it can be afforded, so it was chosen to provide the service for the county.
The district currently provides services through Overdrive, but the county libraries will be using Axis 360.
"It's like Walmart and K-Mart. You can get the same stuff at both of them. It's just that the setup is a little different," Barr said on the differences between the two.
Axis 360 employs a software called Blio, which Marshall said was another reason they wanted to use it, as Blio makes Axis 360 more compatible with handicapped people.
Barr said that it's ADA compliant and that any book that is downloaded can be turned into an audiobook, making the service helpful to people who are vision impaired.
Blio also helps the books look better on the screen all around.
"It's bright. It's in technicolor," Barr said. "Picture books do really well on it ... It looks wonderful on the iPads, the Kindle Fires, anything with a bright screen. It comes up really well."
First-time users will have to download Blio. It's a one-time installation and is downloaded as an app on iPad, smart phones and Kindle Fires and through the computer on Nooks or e-readers.
It's a free download and doesn't take up much room on a computer's memory. Blio and the e-books themselves can also be downloaded to laptop and desktop computers for those willing to sit in front of them and read.
Using Axis 360 requires that one have a library card with any of the libraries in the county.
To start, go to menglelibrary.org. A button on the lower right, labeled "download e-books," will begin the process.
Then, click on Axis 360, which will take you to what is called the "Magic Wallet," containing the selection of books.
Users can then browse for the book they want. When they find it, they need only to click on it, select "check out now," enter their library card number and PIN and click "login."
"It's become very easy to download e-books," Barr said.
The PIN number is automatically assigned by the library and is based on the last four digits of the person's telephone number as listed in
the library's records — so, if you haven't visited in a while, you may need to update it.
Marshall indicated that various libraries in the county may be using different login options, some employing traditional one-word passwords over the PIN numbers, and advised calling your local library to determine your method of accessing Axis 360.
One of the draws of the platform, Barr said, is that the downloading can be done independently on a device owned by the user outside of the library.
"You don't have to come into the library itself, which is great for people who are homebound, who are physically disabled, or just on a bad winter day if you don't want to come out ... because you can use the library at your house," Barr said.
The process does need to be completed on a device owned by the user.
While the Mengle Library has a few devices, they are for instructional purposes and are not lent out to the community.
The return policy is different from regular books as well. Once an e-book is downloaded, it will remain on the device for 21 days, after which it will delete itself.
"You never have a late fee," Barr said. "You don't have to worry about returning it."
Users can also shorten the loan period if they think they will finish the book faster than that, as currently, Axis 360 does not allow books to be "returned" immediately after the reader finishes them, though Barr said that might change in the future.
After the 21-day period expires, the e-book can be downloaded again, but only if there's no one else waiting for it, as each book can only be downloaded by one person at a time.
Currently, county residents are also limited to only two books at a time.
Right now, there are 47 titles in the county's e-book library, most of them fiction ranging from teen literature to mysteries to inspirational and light novels but including a few nonfiction titles such as memoirs and history books.
Barr said that most of them are newer books.
The reason for the comparatively small selection is that the price is set by the publishing house.
A book that a person can download for $9 is often much more expensive than that for a library.
Barr said they sometimes go as high as $90, but the average is around $26 per title.
"The publishing houses are afraid that the libraries are going to put them out of business with this," Barr said. "So, they are very timid in what they're allowing us to do, and they have all sorts of rules and regulations."
Some expense is also added as a result of the fact that libraries usually don't obtain multiple copies of a book unless there's demand, whereas, with e-books, there exists an electronic copy for download and a physical copy for the library's shelves.
They do plan to build on the collection as the resources are available to do so.
"With the funding that we have, diversifying into e-books at the same time you're trying to provide your regular books, it makes it hard
funding-wise," Marshall said.
Otherwise, the selection of books is determined by local interest. Barr said she gets ideas from people who attend her programs on how to download e-books, as well as from looking at what titles are being checked out often at the library.
She said they also reach out to other libraries and ask what books or genres they need.
Barr said that e-books offer a wide variety of benefits to a number of different people. She said they're great for older adults who are starting to lose eyesight because the fonts can be increased dramatically.
They're also good for children with learning disabilities, particularly dyslexia, as coloration can be adjusted in such a way that makes it easier for them to focus.
"I believe it's where libraries are headed. I believe in about 20 years we will still have normal books, but most of the fiction and stuff will probably be on an e-book version," Barr said.
Marshall added that it fits in with one of the emerging roles of the library in the digital age — acting as a resource point for people to learn new technologies.
"We're kind of helping them gain access to books, but we're also helping them with their devices," Marshall said. "We were getting a lot of
questions about devices. People think that libraries will be extinct, but they won't because we're not only just where you go for books, we're where you go for materials and help with computers."
For more information on how to download e-books or access the Axis 360 platform, contact the Mengle Memorial Library at (814) 265-8245 or contact your local library.