THEY were expected to be the final nail in the coffin for struggling local libraries – but now e-books are helping to fuel a resurgence of interest in the community resources.
The Capital’s network of libraries is reaping the benefit from a UK-first mobile application that allows members to scan the barcode of a book in any store before searching an online library database to see if a copy is available to reserve.
As a result, monthly downloads of e-books from city libraries have climbed to almost 3000. About 4500 e-magazines are also borrowed each month.
The app launched late last year also allows users to renew books and DVDs on the go.
City council head of libraries and information services Liz McGettigan said fears that allowing users to increasingly borrow items from a virtual library would end the need for physical community centres had proven unfounded.
The growing popularity of e-books has coincided with a rise in visitor numbers to Edinburgh libraries from a low of 2.6 million in 2009-10 to 3.1 million last financial year – a 15 per cent increase.
Ms McGettigan said: “The interesting aspect of the virtual library is how it’s encouraged people to also physically visit libraries because their performance figures have all gone up.
“People seem to be getting tempted or teased by good offers or items they’ve seen online.
“They’ve seen the service as more innovative and creative and they’re coming back to take a second look.”
Such has been the resurgence that Edinburgh has bucked a borrowing decline in other parts of Britain by opening two new libraries in Drumbrae and Craigmillar in the past 12 months.
Thousands of e-book titles are available through Edinburgh’s online library service.
Library members are able to download the virtual books to either their PC or laptop, or a portable device like a tablet, phone or Kindle Fire.
E-books can be loaned for between one to three weeks and will disappear from an electronic device once the borrowing period is up.
There are no late fees under the system – although only one person can borrow the virtual book at a time just like a physical copy.
City culture convener Councillor Richard Lewis said: “It’s important that our libraries service adapts to meet the changing needs and priorities of our customers. I use the e-book library service myself and find it such an easy way to borrow a book.”
The trend has not been limited to the Capital.
West Lothian Council, which launched its own e-book service in October last year, has witnessed visits to libraries in the region soaring from 695,753 in 2008-9 to 800,852 last financial year.
Books, magazines and kids’ titles
TO get started, users must first upgrade their membership for e-book usage by either e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or asking staff in their local library.
Books can then be accessed on computers, the mobile phone and tablet app and by downloading them and transferring them to electronic readers, such as the Kindle.
As well as books, users can read full copies of magazines on their electronic reader or on the computer.
The service currently offers 109 magazines with titles covering everything from food to computers, and music to motoring.
There is also an international children’s library, with more than 400 European language books available, including Polish, French and Hungarian as well as worldwide titles from places such as India, Asia and the Middle East.
• For more information, visit www.edinburgh.gov.uk/ libraries/