Online Library; Online ebooks accessible to all, no matter where in Minnesota

Published 8:54 am Friday, June 22, 2018

The world has no boundaries or limitations in books, and a free online book collection will be helping all Minnesotans have accessibility to them, no matter where in the state they are.

After a two-year pilot program through the University of Minnesota, Ebooks Minnesota — a free online book collection —will be available to everyone within state  borders.

During this launch, Ebooks Minnesota saw an 86 percent increase in readership during its second year.

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Through April 2018, Minnesotans of all ages connected with an ebook about 158,868 times, according to the University of Minnesota data.

Now that the program is in its third year, the database continues to grow by adding new fiction and nonfiction titles, especially for young readers, whether at a local public library system or school learning environment or even in a book club.

As of Thursday, the database added about another 4,000 books to its collection, which includes expansive titles in Ojibwe, Karen and Somali languages, bringing the total of titles in the database up to around 8,000 books, according to Valerie Horton, director of Minitex.

“We have become a model for other states,” Horton added. “These statewide online collections are kind of new to individual libraries and library systems. We’ve considered that we’re doing something important for everyone everywhere, and not just in Minnesota. Some books are so hard to find in certain languages.”

Minnesota public libraries have access to more than 700,000 ebook titles purchased by regional and state library systems and through local public libraries, which include Ebooks Minnesota titles.

So far, there’s been 70,000 users who have accessed and opened books through the Ebooks Minnesota database, according to data provided by the University of Minnesota, and many libraries are also including this database to their existing eBooks collections

Those library systems include the Southeastern Libraries Cooperating (SELCO), a nonprofit corporation that provides multiple library services that’s governed by the same board, and includes the Austin Public Library.

Having an accessible online platform like Ebooks Minnesota would help “even out the playing field,” said Jennifer Harverland, SELCO communications specialist.

EBooks Minnesota will give people a free option to access books online.

Another unique feature of Ebooks Minnesota include no login requirements or due dates. There’s free accessibility through iTunes, Google Play and Kindle apps, and uses a Geo tracker, which allows those who reside in Minnesota to gain access, meaning greater access for Greater Minnesotans such as Mower County in southeast Minnesota.

“Ebooks Minnesota has such a convenience factor and made a difference in people’s lives without have to take a trip to their local library and we can get these books into the hands of students,” Harverland shared. “It’s a more blanketed access, particularly in the school realm when the school library needs to provide say, ‘The Great Gatsby’ for all the juniors. It has unlimited checkouts and having that kind of access makes a huge difference for us.”

Austin Public Library Director Julie Clinefelter said that the Ebooks Minnesota link is shared through the city’s library website, and that many of their patrons typically access the collection from their homes, and that the resource adds additional titles to their already available eBooks selections and doesn’t take away from the library’s patrons who physically come to the library.

“I think the books are helpful for multiple kids to get on the same books for reports at the same time,” she said. “There’s some portion of the population that uses eBooks and some other portion of that don’t. Some have to have the technology, but not everyone has access to that technology. This really helps close that digital divide, while some are still accessing the library to use physical books as well.”

For Mower County so far, there have been about 68 eBooks that were accessed through Ebooks Minnesota by Austin residents and about 22 titles accessed by Grand Meadow residents, and two from Adams, according to circulation numbers provided by the University of Minnesota.

Ebooks Minnesota also serves as a way for multicultural families to have additional resources for early literacy books written in their native language. Having a lack of titles written in different languages have also been an obstacle for public libraries to provide access to families living around the area, Harverland shared.

“Reading stories in the native language helps them keep that connection to their culture,” she said. “I love the thoughtfulness that this was included in Ebooks Minnesota, and makes Minnesota an even more welcoming place and making everyone feel like they belong.”

One drawback from this program was that there’s no books from best-seller lists that are added, rather trying to focus on titles from Minnesota publishers.

“We’re hoping to add another 3,000 books eventually,” Horton said. “We go for grants and state funding and donations, and find other ways of adding titles to this collection. …that’s probably one drawback to the system is that we don’t buy the latest Stephen King novels since every person in Minnesota can read with that kind of availability. This program hopefully frees up public libraries to purchase or obtain some of those titles.”

Although the database does not include popular books such as Harry Potter or the newest James Patterson novel, the point of the database was to provide access to works of literature to places within the state where it’s an “information desert” and physically venturing to a public library may pose as a challenge in Greater Minnesota, where funding for school books or works to fill rural libraries may be an obstacle.

“We know that some of the school libraries are really struggling to buy eBooks,” Harverland said. “This collection would be able to meet community needs.”