Arts and Entertainment

Magic for the Muggle-minded

If you’ve been dreaming of a way to transmogrify that stack of books by the bed into one managable volume, or an enchanted carry-on that won’t burst bearing the burden of all the travel guides you lugged to your last vacation...

...Well, you may have fallen asleep reading your child’s copy of “Harry Potter.” Or, you may just have checked out an “ebook” from the Bainbridge Library.

Since their introduction in November, Kitsap Regional Libraries haven’t been able to keep the new medium on the shelves.

“Everyone wants to get their hands on one,” said Audrey Newell, KRL publicist.

With screens about twice the size of a Palm Pilot’s and weighing as much as a hefty hardback, ebooks are designed to approximate the experience of reading a “real” printed book.

Rather than scrolling through the electronic document, as they would on a computer, ebook readers can “turn” from page to page with a click of a button.

They also offer features that only a computer can provide, like a backlit screen and the ability to enlarge the print size. New users may find reading on an ebook awkward at first, but the feeling rapidly goes away, Newel said.

“It’s like watching a foreign language film – after 15 to 20 minutes, you stop noticing you’ve been reading subtitles,” she said.

Each of the nine ebooks in the library system holds a different assortment of eight texts. Three are genre-specific, containing only suspense/thriller, science fiction/horror or mystery titles – while the others are samplers of fiction and non-fiction.

In addition to the reading selections, each comes equipped with a electronic dictionary.

The idea to include ebooks in KRL’s holdings began percolating two years ago.

The library looked at several ways to offer electronic texts to its patrons, including allowing readers to download books to their home computers or PDAs. But such services proved too expensive, and too focused on business and technical subjects.

The library decided on a test of the more affordable ebook technology, funded by a $2,000 grant from the Library Foundation.

Kitsap is the first library system in the state to offer ebooks that circulate – in the King County system, users can’t take the devices out of the building.

At the Bainbridge library, checking out an ebook is like checking out most other items, although it can only be loaned to a patron for three weeks at a time with no renewals.

New users are also required to spend five to 10 minutes learning to use the ebook and its accompanying equipment – a small carrying case containing an adapter, cleaning cloth, and instructions.

Judging from demand, response has been enthusiastic; ebook No. 7 is committed through March.

Feedback from patrons over the next six months will help determine whether the library should add more ebooks or otherwise expand its electronic holdings.

Users may be pleasantly surprised by the ebook – if they can get hold of one.

“I wasn’t interested in reading a book on a computer,” librarian Paula Schmidt said. “But I took one home to familiarize myself with it, and started reading. I looked up, and realized an hour had gone by.”

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