The bookmobile gets the digital treatment

Community outreach vehicle gives patrons chance to learn about WPL's digital lending service

With the exploding popularity of e-books and electronic reading devices in recent years, libraries around the world have struggled to figure out how to effectively incorporate the emerging technology into their services.

So while doomsayers predicted the downfall of the published book, e-book and audiobook distributor OverDrive was developing an intuitive and interactive way to introduce its digital lending platform that's offered in over 22,000 libraries and schools worldwide: the Digital Bookmobile.

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The 74-ft.18-wheel tractor-trailer, which makes its way to Whistler Tuesday (May 14), is a high-tech update to the traditional bookmobile concept that offers students and library patrons a chance to familiarize themselves with OverDrive's catalogue and lending service.

"(The Digital Bookmobile) is a community outreach vehicle that travels across North America," said OverDrive's marketing and events manager Renee San Jose. "It's a service that we offer to our public library and school partners for free because we want to help them promote to their communities that this service is available."

The bookmobile has travelled over 100,000 miles since it first hit the road in 2008, and will add Whistler to the list of nearly 600 libraries that have hosted the vehicle.

Once inside, patrons can watch a video on one of the bookmobile's flatscreen TVs introducing them to OverDrive's service and digital catalogue and sample a variety of media in different formats. There will be an audiobook galley and an e-book experience area, which gives library users hands-on experience that will help them explore titles in different formats that are available to them.

"You'll have the chance to try the service out by exploring the titles, checking them out with your library card, and being able to either save the title in your library account for reading later on your own device or PC, or you can send them to your device as well on the bookmobile," San Jose said.

Library staff will also be on-hand for more specific questions, and to assist patrons with their e-reading device. Whistler's library currently has a "petting zoo" on-hand, where patrons can test out a variety of e-reading devices including a Kindle Touch, an iPad and a Sony Reader.

"This is going to be a big part of the future of libraries, in that you can go in with a piece of equipment and a librarian will help you to use it," said Whistler Public Library board chair Nancy Campbell. "Some libraries at this point in time are actually loading Kindles and other e-readers as well, and then actually lending out the e-reader with up to 50 titles on it."

For those who still prefer a more tactile reading experience, Campbell said Whistler's library isn't about to get rid of its printed titles anytime soon. She simply sees initiatives like the Digital Bookmobile as a way for libraries to continue evolving and serve as a focal point for the community.

"As technology develops, the worst thing would be for us to fall behind the eight ball, so we're moving more towards a situation where people will use libraries as a gathering spot; very much the living room of the community," she said. "(Patrons) will come in and librarians - the best search engines ever - will help them with their electronic equipment and any of their needs."

The Digital Bookmobile hits town for one day only on Tuesday from noon to 4 p.m. It will be parked next to the library.

The library is also giving away a free Sony Reader with three loaded titles as part of the bookmobile's visit. Head to the library to fill out a ballot for a chance to win.

Patrons can also view and download all available digital titles at www.downloads.bclibrary.ca.

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