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County library increases funding for digital media

Library associate Meghan Cox explores the library website at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone, for downloadable books available through the online library system. More will soon be available.

The Pima County Public Library is doubling down on its bet on the popularity of e-books.

It has recently doubled its $600,000 budget for electronic media, including digital versions of books that can be read on Amazon Kindles, Apple iPads and other digital devices.

The $1.26 million figure, which allows the library to lease the digital material from a third-party contractor, is a response to increasing requests for e-books from patrons.

Roughly two years into the five-year agreement with Maryland-based Recorded Books LLC, Kenya Johnson, with the Pima County Public Library, said locals have become voracious in their appetite for electronic books.

“Demand has increased,” Johnson said.

Two years ago, the county spent $110,271 just on e-books, and last year it spent $336,000. The library is projected to spend $540,000 in the current fiscal year for e-books.

The remainder of the $1.26 million contract with Recorded Books buys other types of digital media, such as audio books.

The county has more than 25,000 titles in its digital materials collection, which includes e-books, audiobooks on CD, digital audiobooks, and videos.

The cost for the library to lease an e-book averages about $85, said Johnson. It is expensive when compared to buying a recently released hardcover book — about $30 — or a mass-market paperback — about $7.

However, the e-books can usually be checked out to several people at the same time.

Johnson said the library district has not done a study on how much it costs to manage a digital copy compared with physical media, but believes the cost should be lower.

An e-book can be checked out, returned and checked out again without ever involving library staff.

Each book can be downloaded to a device for a set amount time, usually seven to 21 days, depending on the publisher.

Once the time expires, Johnson said, the book simply disappears from the person’s device.

Johnson said the e-book purchases are driven by demand, and the library has bought several copies of the same e-book to meet the demand for popular titles.

The current top download for the library is “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Those without a library card will still need to set foot at least once inside a library branch to get a card. Only those registered with the Pima County Public Library can log on to its website to download e-books.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4346. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFerguson.

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Joe has been with the Star for six years. He covers politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona. He graduated from the UA and previously worked for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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