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Re-Kindle the passion: Patrons line up to check out a library within the library

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Since the Waccamaw Library added Kindles to its circulation inventory three months ago, eager readers have been snatching them up at Whispernet speed.

“The first day we got them, one lady was already waiting here to check one out, she was so excited,” said Carlethia Rudolph, branch manager.

The Waccamaw branch has six of Amazon’s wireless reading devices available for take-home use and it wasn’t long before the rest had been claimed too.

There has been a waiting list to borrow one of the devices ever since. It averages about 20 people, Rudolph said, but was up to 29 last week. The names of those who borrow Kindles are kept confidential, as with all other library materials.

“Everybody seems to love it, but there are those that prefer books, and we love it that they love books,” she said. “They say basically the Kindle is more useful for traveling or night time reading, because a book is so heavy to hold up in bed.”

The Kindle weighs less than 9 ounces and holds up to 3,500 books, so readers can take their entire library with them when they travel without adding a lot of weight to their luggage.

The library Kindles are pre-loaded with an assortment of about 50 books each.

All the Georgetown County library branches got Kindles this year, but the Waccamaw Library is where they’re most popular, said Dwight McInvaill, library director.

The devices have been a hit at the Georgetown branch too, but only six people are on the waiting list there.

Demand has been lower at the library’s other branches, in the western part of the county.

“It could be that people just aren’t as comfortable with technology and trying new things there,” McInvaill said. “It’s hard to tell, because those branches are full of people using the regular computers for searches and things like that.”

A higher rate of illiteracy in the western regions of the county could also play into the discrepancy, he said.

But McInvaill said it was expected from the start that Kindles would be most popular at the Waccamaw and Georgetown branches. Those are the areas of the county with the most avid readers, as reflected by circulation numbers for hard copy books, as well as large and active Friends of the Library groups at those branches.

The Georgetown County Library system remains the only one in the state that is circulating Kindles, though a few others are circulating the Nook, Barnes & Noble’s wireless reading device.

Plans are to purchase more Kindles for the Waccamaw branch. The library has seven – one for children that is available for in-house use only, in addition to the five for adults and one for young adults that are available for lending. McInvaill would like to see that number double.

He had funding targeted for the purchase, “but an air conditioning unit just went out in Georgetown, so there it goes.”

McInvaill said the library has some Nooks on hand and he would like to put those in to service soon, too.

Because of the high demand, borrowers can’t renew their Kindle loans.

“We want to make sure everybody gets a chance to try it,” Rudolph said.

But those who have tried it and liked it can join the waiting list for a second turn, and many do.

“A lot of people want to buy a Kindle and they want to check it out first to make sure it’s something they want to have,” Rudolph said. “Or they want to give one as a gift and they’re waiting, because they’re not sure they want to spend that much in a gift before seeing how it functions.”

McInvaill said he’s heard the same thing at the Georgetown branch, and “evidently some people become hooked and think to themselves, ‘hey, this is a pretty good deal,’ so they just continue to take advantage of the library service, which is really what we want.”

Borrowers keep the Kindle for up to two weeks and have to sign a contract promising not to damage it or download new content before they can leave with it. There’s a $5 per day fee if the device is not returned on time, “so you don’t want to be late,” Rudolph said.

Those who borrow the Kindle also get a case, charger, and instruction book.

The only glitch the library has had with loaning Kindles is that some patrons have accidentally deleted e-books from the device. Because the books are shared on multiple devices, once they have been deleted, they can’t be recovered, McInvaill said.

In an effort to solve the problem, library staff is being careful to instruct patrons how books are deleted, so they can avoid doing it.

When accidents do happen, though, “we are understanding and don’t charge for the additional cost.”

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