Tech Savvy: Turning the page on e-books

Well, this is awkward. If you'll recall in the Tech Savvy team's introductory background article from April, I made my position on e-books and e-readers pretty clear. To quote myself, I said, "I'm staunchly opposed to reading on a Kindle, iPad or...

Brainerd Dispatch reporter Spenser Bickett demonstrates how to borrow e-books from the Brainerd Public Library using the 3M Cloud Library app on the iPad. (Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls)
Brainerd Dispatch reporter Spenser Bickett demonstrates how to borrow e-books from the Brainerd Public Library using the 3M Cloud Library app on the iPad. (Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls)

Well, this is awkward.

If you'll recall in the Tech Savvy team's introductory background article from April, I made my position on e-books and e-readers pretty clear. To quote myself, I said, "I'm staunchly opposed to reading on a Kindle, iPad or other tablet device. Give me a good, solid paperback instead, which also supports Minnesota's timber industry, I might add."

It's my previously stated position on e-books, though, that makes me a perfect candidate to learn how the Brainerd Public Library's foray into e-book rentals is going. If the library can turn me into an e-book user, then they can turn anyone into an e-book user.

How it works

Library patrons can borrow e-books using the 3M Cloud Library app, Branch Manager Jolene Bradley said. It's as simple as downloading the app on your smartphone or tablet and punching in the account number on your library card and the PIN you created when you got your library card.


The app is very intuitive and easy to use. It's available for iOS, Android, Windows, Google Play, Kindle Fire, just about any mobile device you have. It's not surprising that 3M, which makes basically anything you can think of, could develop a great app.

The app's interface is similar to Netflix's mobile app. You scroll vertically between different categories. Within the categories, you scroll left to right to access different titles. The book covers represent each title, which is important, Bradley said.

"We judge our books by a cover, it's just the way it goes," Bradley said.

The app's layout promotes more browsing of titles you may have missed before, Bradley said. If a user is waiting on multiple holds, they may find something available now in a different genre while they wait for a hold to open up.

"I can't believe how many people have come in and said because of the e-books they're trying different books," Bradley said. "Because they're so accessible, you can just open it up and give it a read."

Once you tap on a title, it brings up a screen showing you more information on the book. It includes the publishing information, a rating out of five stars and whether the title is available now. It'll also show you similar books, Bradley said, so if the book you're looking at isn't available, you can find something else.

"That's the best thing about it, is that it's not going to hurt anything to try some new things and you're not out anything," Bradley said.

If you download the 3M Cloud Library on your tablet and your smartphone, you can sync your account and access your books on both devices, Bradley said. If you don't have your tablet somewhere, like a doctor's waiting room, you can read your books on your phone instead.


Users can request up to 10 e-book holds at once, Bradley said, and can check out up to five e-books at once. A checkout lasts two weeks and once the checkout is up, it just disappears from the My Books page of your 3M Cloud Library app.

"You never have overdue or late fees," Bradley said. "The book just disappears."

You can read the book over an internet connection within the app, or you can download the e-book to be able to access it offline. The offline access is great, Bradley said, because then you could read your e-book on an airplane or somewhere else without a reliable internet connection.

"That makes it simple to travel with," Bradley said.

After you've opened a book, you swipe left to right or tap on either side of the screen to move from page to page. Users can bookmark pages, highlight text, take notes, see the table of contents and search for different words and phrases. You can also switch to night mode, which features white text on a black background, and sepia mode, which has black text on a sepia background.

The night mode is "so much easier on your eyes," Bradley said. It's her preferred mode for reading on her device at night.

Each e-book can also become a large font book, Bradley said, by increasing the font size to make it easier to read. This makes it more accessible for senior readers, she said, as well as the fact a tablet is often lighter to hold than a physical book.

What's there?


There's a wide selection of titles in fiction and nonfiction available in the app, Bradley said, ranging from art to westerns. You can also filter between e-books and audio e-books, as well as which books are currently available for checkout.

"It makes it so you don't have that disappointment when you click on it (and see it's unavailable)," Bradley said.

If there's a lot of holds on a certain title, the library will purchase another e-book copy so people don't have to wait as long to read it, Bradley said. You can also set up email notifications to let you know when a book you have a hold on is ready to be checked out, she said.

"People are great about returning things early," Bradley said. "You usually get it a lot faster than you think you're going to."

Even though it's an e-book, it still works a lot like checking out a physical book from a library. If the library has 10 e-book copies of a certain title, only 10 people can check it out at once. A copy of an e-book can be around $80, Bradley said, as opposed to a physical book, which is more like $20.

The rules on e-book use vary from publisher to publisher, she said. Some publishers only allow an e-book to be checked out a certain amount of times before it disappears, requiring the library to re-order it. Not every author is available via e-book. For example, the library just recently got access to e-book copies of the Harry Potter series.

The library is adding more audio e-book options, Bradley said, and is currently switching from using OneClickdigital as its e-book provider. Instead of purchasing CDs for children's books with audio, the library has started purchasing audio e-books for a simple reason, she said.

"I've had parents come in and say, 'We don't own a CD player anymore,'" Bradley said. "Can you imagine seeing a kid walking around with a CD Walkman?"


However, the library's regular CD collection is still in high demand among people who travel for work, like truck drivers, Bradley said.


The Kitchigami Regional Library System launched the e-book program in September of 2012 and is "definitely behind" other libraries, Bradley said. People think e-books are taking over the library, she said, but it's not the case. In 2015 the library system had 725,482 physical material checkouts. There were 53,345 e-book checkouts, or less than 7 percent of total checkouts.

"It's really a small percentage of everything we do here," Bradley said. "But it's definitely something we want to continue to grow and have more access to."

The e-book collection is shared throughout the Kitchigami Regional Library System, Bradley said, so each library puts a certain amount of funding toward purchasing e-books. There's now approximately 4,500 titles available for checkout through the 3M Cloud Library in the Kitchigami system.

Most other libraries in the U.S. use OverDrive to provide e-book services, Bradley said. The downside to that platform is it involves checking out e-books on a website and then going to the app to download them. With the 3M Cloud Library, the checking out and downloading all happens within the app, so it's streamlined.

"This is all in one, so you're not moving back and forth," Bradley said. "I think it saves a lot of confusion."

People really like the idea of e-books at the library and get excited about it, Bradley said. Others love it and are avid users, she said, while others never catch on with the idea. They make an account and don't use the app much, but still have it on their smartphone.


"People that really do like it, really get a huge usage out of the system," Bradley said. "I think we have some that still do e-books as well as physical books."

Personally, it took Bradley a while to get into e-books, but once she did, it became a big part of her regular reading. She loves the night mode for reading on the tablet at night as well as the accessibility.

"I love that I can just have it on my tablet, which I have with me all the time anyways," Bradley said.

A benefit of reading e-books versus physical books is the privacy, Bradley said. People can't see the cover of what you're reading, she said, which has meant the library's e-book copies of romance novels have been pretty popular.

"Our romance selection on there is enormous," Bradley said.

It's easy for the library to monitor e-book usage and see what titles are popular, Bradley said. They don't look at specific user data, she said, but trends in genres and categories.

"So we know to make sure that we're purchasing more of certain things," Bradley said.



The library uses Flipster for digital magazines, which has online and app components. A user accesses Flipster from an internet browser to look at magazines online, but they can also download copies to the app and access them without an internet connection.

"It takes a little bit longer to download those, because they're so picture-heavy," Bradley said.

It's great for regular magazine users, Bradley said, because it helps them avoid the problem of magazines piling up in their home. There's more than 40 publications to choose from, including popular titles like Rolling Stone magazine, Entertainment Weekly magazine and People magazine.

"We have back issues as well," Bradley said. "You can look through as many as you want, there's no limitation."

The digital magazines feature numerous hyperlinks, Bradley said, which makes it easy to find articles within the magazine. Just clicking on a teaser for an article on the cover will take you right to the article in the magazine, for example.

"It's just a whole different way to look at a magazine," Bradley said.


After meeting with Bradley and learning more about the 3M Cloud Library app, I decided to take it for a spin myself. I found myself more interested in many of the nonfiction titles I found, even though I have a pretty even split between fiction and nonfiction books on my reading list.

There's a few different things I like about the library offering e-book rentals in such an accessible format like the 3M Cloud Library app. For one, it's simple to navigate and easy to download a title you're interested in. Also, it's free, so you're not committing $10 or more to download an e-book you may not enjoy.

While I don't mind, and in some ways prefer, reading text on my iPad, it's the ability to sync the apps on my phone and tablet that I really find attractive. Having a book at my fingertips on my phone might be a way to more productively fill time I'd otherwise spend mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or Facebook.

While just two short months ago I outed myself as an e-book denier, learning more about borrowing e-books from my local library has me setting down a paperback and picking up an iPad too from time to time.

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Spenser Bickett
Spenser Bickett

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