Breaking News Bar
updated: 12/30/2010 6:21 PM

Spike in online book downloads challenge libraries

Success - Article sent! close

Library patrons across the region were experiencing slower download times this week thanks to a post-Christmas rush to gobble up free e-books from library websites.

The craze hit suburban library cardholders from Aurora to Arlington Heights and from Lombard to Lincolnshire, resulting in slower download times as excited readers looked for material for their new iPads, Nooks or other electronic reading devices known as e-readers.

"We have been having some slowness types of issues with (e-book downloading)," Amy Roth, spokeswoman for the Aurora Public Library, said Thursday. "It's just basically an increase in traffic volume because of all the e-books and e-readers that people received for the holidays."

Many suburban libraries subscribe to online services such as OverDrive or MyMediaMall that allow their users access to a shared stock of electronic reading material and audio books.

Library card holders log onto the library's website, find the section for downloading material, enter their library card number, then choose and download the books of their choice. Books are "checked out," in a sense, as most remain on the electronic device only for a set length of time.

OverDrive reported Wednesday that a post-holiday spike in use, on top of already increased interest in downloading reading material, caused slow download times and error messages for some users.

The company said in an e-mail to libraries that it is working to increase the amount of traffic its site can handle by adding more servers and bandwidth and new hardware. Download speeds should be back to preholiday rates in the next two days, according to the e-mail.

Arlington Heights Memorial Library is working to solve other hardware and software problems new e-reader users may encounter by offering drop-in courses on how to use devices such as the Nook or the Sony Reader, both of which are compatible with OverDrive's downloading service.

"The thinking behind this is that a lot of people have gotten e-readers for Christmas and the holidays and wonder how they can use them," information services manager Richard Kong said. "There is obviously an increase in interest from the public just because more people are purchasing e-readers."

Jan O'Connell, adult services librarian at the Helen Plum Memorial Library in Lombard, said the library fielded questions about e-readers and OverDrive as people were shopping for gifts.

"We had lots of questions before Christmas asking us about compatible readers," O'Connell said. "In other words, clearly people were making their decisions based on what their library could provide for them for free."

Adult services librarians at the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire also saw a small increase in e-reader queries before the holidays, spokeswoman Catherine Savage said. But the library's online guide to e-books had a spike in hits Dec. 27 -- about the same time Overdrive experienced its boost in post-holiday usership.

"This is a wonderful problem to have -- that people are using (e-books)," O'Connell said. "They're embracing the technology. That's the thing that we notice is that all ages are accepting the technology."