Washington workers get e-books

The Washington State Library, which provides book loan and research services for state government workers, has become the latest in what is still a select band of government libraries that offer online electronic books to patrons.

Through a deal with netLibrary Inc., the Washington State Library (www.statelib.wa.gov) offers more than 600 titles, most of them technical books and manuals. The books reside on netLibrary servers, and state employees can "sign out" books one at a time through netLibrary's system after they've set up an account as a registered user.

"We did a survey of the library's users about nine months ago," said Diane Rider, the library's collection development coordinator. "There was strong feedback about the desire to see more resources available on the desktop, particularly from people in more rural parts of the state."

Washington paid an upfront fee to make the "eBooks" available and is charged an access fee each time a volume is signed out. The library will conduct another survey at some point to determine what books and subjects are "hot" and justify the expense of buying extra copies and new titles, Rider said.

Launched in 1997, netLibrary is recognized as a leader in this market and has about 40,000 electronic books available, according to Marge Gammon, the company's senior director of marketing.

About 5,000 libraries — including some overseas — subscribe to netLibrary's service, she said. Most are academic libraries, but Gammon said she expects government libraries to be a bigger player in the future as distance learning becomes more prominent in governments' plans.

"There isn't any less interest by government; perhaps there's even more so," Gammon said. "It's more a matter of [government] getting the funds, getting vendor approvals and so on."

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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