SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — With more South Dakotans owning tablets and e-readers, libraries across the state are transforming into resource centers to help people tap into the large amount of content previously unavailable through physical books, especially in rural areas.
That taxpayer-funded library card gives readers access to thousands of books, magazines and other electronic resources — for free.
"The untold story is that the small libraries have incredible access," said state librarian Daria Bossman. "If you brought a truckload of new nonfiction and fictions books in, 8,000 books, into a small community, you'd wow people. And that's what's there."
Of the 111 public libraries in South Dakota, 71 pay a minimum of $600 a year to be part of SD Titles To Go, giving them access to e-books through OverDrive Inc. Three other libraries have such access through their own subscriptions: Rapid City, Ellsworth Air Force Base and Siouxland Libraries, which serves Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County.
The number of individual titles available has grown from 1,258 two years ago to 8,170, Bossman said.
Doris Ann Mertz, director of Custer County Library, said a lot of retirees like e-readers because they can increase the font size. And she has one avid reader in a nursing home who can't get out when it's icy but can easily download a book to her Kindle, Mertz said.
"Large-print books cost a lot of money and new arrivals cost about twice that much. Now, especially with my older readers, it gives them a lot more choices than what I could otherwise purchase for them," she said.
"Sometimes they're not thrilled because someone bought them (an e-reader or tablet) for Christmas," Mertz said. "Once they get comfortable with it, they're happy to have it and it's not as scary as they thought it would be. And sometimes they prefer that to the book format."
Nearly 78 percent of South Dakotans now have access to e-books through their local library, Bossman said. Other electronic resources are available with a state library card, which all South Dakotans can get, Mertz added.
Those include car repair books and programs that take users through courses on subjects such as nursing and real estate, ACT and SAT practice tests, and foreign language training, she said.
Some libraries also subscribe to Zinio, which gives users free access to digital magazines that can be downloaded to an electronic device and don't expire.
"With e-books, the model is one user at a time. With the magazines, we purchase the subscription and a thousand people can download the current issue of a certain magazine," said Cynthia Winn, assistant director for public services at Siouxland Libraries.
"As we see more and more magazines cease to publish, it's good that we've got another way to provide them, like Newsweek."
Heather Stephenson, electronic resources librarian at Siouxland Libraries, said the role of the librarian has changed with the technology. Much of the job now is to educate people about how to use their devices, so the library offers classes and one-on-one sessions.
"It's just adding a service. It's not taking anything away from what we already offer," she said.
But some libraries are removing outdated books and installing sitting areas, Bossman said.
"Libraries are more willing to let go of what they bought 30, 40, 50 years ago and get it off the shelves and take down some stacks and create more reading room and living room type spaces. And people can gather and talk about what they're reading and have that in-person social networking," she said.