Library's free audio book downloads used little

The Augusta library system spends $7,500 per year so patrons can download audio books over the Internet for free, but the response has been under-whelming.

"It concerns me because we are paying for the service, and I'd like to see it used more," Director Gary Swint said. "I wouldn't want to pay for books that aren't being read."

To get a discount, the East Central Georgia Regional Library joined through Georgia Download Destination with 17 other library systems, using money from a state grant, Mr. Swint said.

The program has been available since May 2008, accessible through a link at www.ecgrl.com. Among the 1,800 available MP3 book titles are The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, I Am Legend and Other Stories by Richard Matheson, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, The Call of the Wild by Jack London and I Am America and So Can You by Stephen Colbert.

Mr. Swint said he has been disappointed in the usage. In April, there were 306 book downloads systemwide, which covers Richmond, Columbia, Burke, Lincoln and Warren counties. (Columbia County library patrons can access both Georgia Download Destination and NetLibrary's eAudiobook collection, a similar service.)

During the same period, Savannah's three-county system had 543 downloads, and Athens-Clarke County had 427.

"We think that people just don't know about this," Reference Librarian Dottie Demarest said.

When the service became available, the library issued news releases and advertised it on the Web site and on fliers. The main library also gives out Georgia Download Destination bookmarks.

Apparently, that hasn't been enough, Ms. Demarest said.

Another problem might have been Apple Inc. Users couldn't download the audio books to their iPods or Mac computers last year, she said, and a lot of people might have given up. The kink is being worked through. Now, all but 300 of the titles are iPod compatible, she said.

Among the most popular downloads have been the Twilight novels by Stephenie Meyer, The Art of War by Sun Tzu and The Bible read by Gregory Peck and instructional books on speaking Spanish and French, Ms. Demarest said.

She worries that if usage doesn't pick up, the library will have trouble justifying the expense for the next service she wants to add: downloadable movies.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

DOWNLOAD AUDIO BOOKS

WHAT IT TAKES: An Internet connection, a working library card and a pin number, which a patron can only get by going to a library branch in person.

TO ACCESS: Go to www.ecgrl.com, click on "Georgia Download Destination," click on "Quick Start Guide," then follow the instructions to download the necessary software.

THINGS TO KNOW: Audio books can only be "checked out" for seven days. After that period, they'll disappear from the user's terminal, but not from MP3 players. Books can also be stored permanently by being burned to CDs. Georgia Download Destination only allows digital books to be checked out one at time, but patrons can place a hold on a title through the Web site.