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Meeting the digital demand
Central Rappahannock Regional Library is trying to keep up with digital demand.

 England Run's branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library has space for people to meet, use computers and read in comfy chairs.
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Date published: 7/15/2011


Twenty years ago, it was hard for most people to imagine a library functioning without a hulking beast of a card catalog.

Today's high school students probably have no idea what a card catalog is. Blame--or thank--technology. Computerized searches are simply faster and easier.

And technology is not done with libraries yet. As the public becomes more comfortable with digital information, libraries might soon add books to the endangered-species list.

"I think paper books will become a collector's thing, but not yet," said Chris Glover, Central Rappahannock Regional Library's assistant director for information technology.

Digital book formats, known as e-books, are rapidly gaining market share even as overall book sales have declined. According to the Association of American Publishers, April e-book sales increased 157 percent from 2010 to 2011. Total e-book sales jumped from $31.7 million in 2007 to $302.9 million in 2010.

Physical books will never disappear entirely, Glover said, but the digital revolution in books could mirror the music industry, where digital song downloads became the dominant distribution format in about 10 years.

Devices such as Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook and the Apple iPad have given people the ability to easily store, carry and read entire virtual libraries. Even smartphones are viable e-book platforms. Demand is exploding.

Central Rappahannock Regional Library, with branches in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, Stafford and Westmoreland counties, is positioning itself to serve those readers by taking another step into the digital future. CRRL Director Donna Cote and her staff have decided to make borrowing e-books easier.

An ongoing process

CRRL has served e-book readers since 1995. It's just that most people didn't want or need to read books online at that time. It was also inconvenient to read e-books then, as devices and distribution systems were clunky at best. Users were essentially tethered to a desktop or laptop if they wanted to read an e-book.

The 57,000 e-books now offered by the library are largely nonfiction titles that don't necessarily appeal to the casual reader. Even so, they have been a popular enough format for collection development manager Janice Black to consider adding more e-books.

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Top 10 e-book downloads from Central Rappahannock Regional Library since 2009 (number of downloads in parentheses)

10--"Patton: As Military Commander" by Hubert Essame (63)

9--"Smitten" by Janet Evanovich (65)

8--"Good Poor Man's Wife" by Claudia Bushman (67)

7--"Naughty Neighbor" by Janet Evanovich (71)

6--"The Harlem Renaissance: An Annotated Reference Guide for Student Research" by Marie Rodgers (78)

5--"Judas at the Jockey Club and Other Episodes of Porfirian Mexico" by William Beezley (87)

4--"How to Prepare for the Armed Forces Test--ASVAB" (109)

3--"Fugitive: A Novel" by Phillip Margolin (113)

2--"Nova's GRE Prep Course" by Jeff Kolby and Scott Thornburg (122)

1--"Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America" by Robert May (186)

A recent Associated Press report suggests localities across the country have responded to the recession by making drastic cuts to library budgets. Some have closed libraries altogether.

Not so in the Fredericksburg area, which has supported Central Rappahannock Regional Library through the tough economy. In fact, Stafford County built the England Run branch under budget while the economy was taking a beating.

Here are the last three annual budgets for CRRL. Some funding comes from the state, but most comes from the participating localities of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, Stafford and Westmoreland counties.