More library users are looking beyond the printed page.

More library users are looking beyond the printed page.

From January to Nov. 27, Southwest Public Libraries patrons checked out 6,808 e-books, compared to 1,594 e-book checkouts for January to December of 2010.

“I think it’s just another method for people to get their resources,” said Debbie Wittkop, digital services-outreach librarian.

Electronic books have been available at Southwest Public Libraries for the past five years, but the library system saw e-book interest increase after December of 2010, Wittkop said. While the most popular devices were the Barnes and Noble Nook and the Sony eReader, the Amazon Kindle has slightly outpaced both since it became available to libraries near the end of September.

Kindle classes held at Grove City and Westland Area public libraries are “pretty well received,” with five to 10 people attending each class, Wittkop said.

E-books are available via Digital Downloads, a consortium Southwest Public Libraries participates in along with 14 other libraries in central Ohio and beyond.

While Columbus, Worthington and Southwest public libraries share access to print books, the entire consortium has access to the e-books on Digital Downloads, Wittkop said. The consortium collectively spends about $1 million annually in e-book purchases, an amount that probably will increase as e-books gain popularity.

As of Dec. 1, 15,680 titles are available to the consortium, Wittkop said, estimating the number possibly tripled from last year.

E-book availability depends on the publishers. For example, while Simon & Schuster and Macmillan Publishers Ltd. offer print titles to libraries, they currently don’t offer e-book titles, Wittkop said.

Print books are still the cheapest for library purchase. Southwest Public Libraries purchases print titles at a 40-percent discount, Wittkop said. The library system usually pays $25-30 per e-book title and $15-17 per print title.

“We still buy more print because the use is still there,” Wittkop said, with library patrons using print titles more than e-books. Still, she said the library system increased its e-book catalogue “by leaps and bounds.”

Southwest Public Libraries spends about $500,000 annually on print materials and $50,000 for e-books and audio books.

Marketing is a challenge for the library system. Wittkop said she is considering visiting different areas in the library system to target those who don’t normally visit the library.

“The hardest part is letting people know that we have this offering,” she said.