Rita and Marvin Weintraub with Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library librarians Karen Corrin, left, and Helen Pinsky, second from the right. (photo from Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library)
The e-book market has been growing by leaps and bounds, particularly in Canadian libraries, where the concept of a book that doesn’t get dog-eared, doesn’t fall apart and can be carried around on something as small as a phone or tablet seems to appeal to young and old alike. According to a 2014 report published by the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, the interest in e-books in libraries “has exploded” since 2011, when e-book borrowing constituted just one percent of the overall circulation in Canadian libraries. By 2013, that number had jumped to 10 percent, demonstrating that library readers were now comfortable with the digital book format.
The Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library has been tapping into that surge, thanks to a grant from the Sonner Family Foundation. The library launched its digital book-lending program in 2013, said librarian Helen Pinsky. The program got going at the encouragement of Eve Sonner, who manages the family foundation in her parents’ memory. The list of available books now numbers around 206 titles. “[It] is just amazing how much we were able to do and how much we were able to achieve [with this grant],” she said.
But keeping up with the expansion has been a challenge at times, she added, particularly because of the cost that publishers charge libraries for digital books.
“The popular books are extremely expensive in e-book version,” Pinsky explained. This is because most publishers charge libraries a higher price for e-books, which are regulated under usage licences based on the amount of times the book is checked out and the length of the licence. The top five Canadian publishers – HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin and Random House – will all licence to libraries, but with varying terms. Simon & Schuster’s pilot library program was not available until 2014, when it made its digital property available on the electronic public library system.
Isaac Waldman licences its e-books through OverDrive, an e-book platform that sets its own contracts and costs. Pinsky said the average cost of an e-book licence for a newly released book can run as much as $85. That allows for it to be listed for two years or 26 views (whichever limit is reached first).
“So it is very difficult for us to maintain this,” she said, explaining that the library naturally wants to carry the most popular and requested titles, but must find a way to balance the costs. “It is our intention to, but we would really love to get more financial support to keep this collection growing.”
One of the ways the library hopes to expand its funding is through the upcoming telethon, which this year will run March 15-22. The annual telethon, which was started in 1994 by Rita Weintraub, is a vital part of the library’s fundraising network for many areas of the library.
“We serve so many [interests], and are constantly trying to keep each area current and meaningful to its reader base,” explained Pinsky. The money raised is allocated according to need. “For example, we’re always updating the storytime corner, where parents and grandparents come with their little ones to hear stories being read, or to read together. Our non-fiction books include the latest in politics, economics and history/biography, especially about Israel. We try to entice and encourage young readers with the latest in their favorite genres, all with a Jewish motif.” Some of those selections may be in print, while others are in electronic format. Pinsky said the library generally tries not to duplicate print editions in its electronic listing, but makes exceptions in some cases.
“Many of the purchases these days are in direct response to requests. And so, what we want to do is make books available to our members that wouldn’t necessarily be available through [other] library systems.” So books that have long wait times at other libraries, or are hard to get, are also considered for the program.
Some of the most popular e-books that the library has carried include My Promised Land by Israeli journalist Ari Shavit, The Remains of Love by Zeruyah Shalev and Growing Up Jewish in China by Dolly Bell. Pinsky said there are also books that are difficult to supply on the OverDrive system, and those include books in Hebrew and children’s picture books.
Asked if she had any advice for readers, she said simply, “Avoid long lines by borrowing from us.”
Those who wish to contribute to the library can either do so at the time of the telethon, by going online to the Isaac Waldman site at jccgv.com or by calling 604-257-5181. Those who donate $36 or more automatically become Friends of the Library.
“We are grateful to the Sonner family for their generosity in initiating the e-book program and helping us to build the collection,” said Pinsky. “Eve chose this initiative to honor the memory of her father, who was an innovative and creative thinker.”
Jan Lee’s articles have been published in numerous publications. She also writes on sustainable business practices for TriplePundit.com. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.