E-reader workshops in public libraries

E-reader workshops in public libraries

How do you make a decision about which e-reader to buy?  What do you do if your daughter’s given you an e-reader for Christmas, and you keep it tucked in a drawer, reluctant to admit that the thing terrifies you? Where can you get a recommendation for a book app for the lovely new smartphone you just got?

The answer’s starting to be:  your local library.  I work for Surrey library service, and there’s a number of us – library authorities  - who are starting to run workshops for the public.

Ours has been described as a “petting zoo”.  We take along Kobo, Sony, Elonex, and Bookbox e-readers, and two tablets, an iPad and Samsung Galaxy.  (Note:  no Kindles, so far.  You can’t borrow library books on a Kindle.  However, you can on a Kindle Fire tablet, with a bit of help.)  People who are thinking of buying a device have a chance to try them out first.

Our main intention, of course, is to promote our ebook service and help people to use it.  The DRM (digital rights management software) is a minefield for anybody who isn’t tech savvy, so we can help customers get through it step-by-step.  We’re constantly surprised by how many people don’t realise that libraries do e-books, and this is an opportunity to get the message out.

What we’ve discovered is that there’s an awful lot of people out there needing one-to-one help with their devices, particularly if they’re disabled or at the older end of the spectrum.  At our last workshop we had a husband and wife:  he’d given her an e-reader two years ago, and she’d never been able to work out how to use it, let alone how to borrow library books.  This has proved to be quite a theme amongst the people attending.  I’m pleased to report that she’s off and going now.

It’s also clear, working with the public, how fast the tablet is replacing the e-reader.  Our initial workshops focussed on e-readers but we’re having to re-think, as so many people are coming in with tablets, particularly iPads.

It’s nice to be able to report, at a time when ebooks seem to be threatening high-street booksellers, that we’ve had really good support from our local WH Smith and Waterstones.  Staff at WH Smith have been showing off the latest Kobos, and at our future workshops Waterstones will be demonstrating Kindles.  We’re also lucky to  have an excellent volunteer who is able to spend more time with the public than staff can.

I think one of the things that pleases me most about the workshops is the way they bring e-book services and physical buildings together.  E-books are peripheral to many library staff, because they are downloaded from a central server by people who don’t have to visit a library.  There’s a debate raging about whether ebooks will be good or bad for the physical library, but it’s quite clear that ebooks are fabulous for the library customer.  Ebook borrowing, although hampered by lack of stock, is growing well.  Virtual use of libraries is growing by about 20% a year.  Library users want what we all want:  access to books 24/7.

Other library authorities have been doing e-reader or gadget workshops longer than we have, notably Manchester, Devon and Plymouth.  More are starting to go down this route.  Ever since computers made an appearance in libraries, we’ve been helping people get online.  Now we’re helping them join the e-reading revolution.