The rising popularity of electronic books is boosting membership at libraries in the Lower Mainland, officials say. 

E-books can be downloaded to an electronic reader or to a personal computer and offer a feature that saves forgetful book borrowers those pesky late fees — they "return" themselves after three weeks by being automatically erased from the devices. 


E-books that can be downloaded to electronic devices such as the Apple iPad are bringing new users to Lower Mainland libraries. ((CBC))

Vancouver Public Library spokeswoman Jean Kavanagh said the library issued nearly 18,000 new cards between 2008 and 2009, and while a new branch and new children's memberships have helped drive those numbers up, she believes the e-books are largely responsible.

"There are 5,500 downloadable e-books and we're getting more all the time," she said. "I mean, it really is an area that people are interested in."

Kavanagh said the library is providing training to its staff so they can answer questions about the electronic materials. Training sessions for the public are also being considered.

"There's been an uptake in the number of people that are using our online resources and, in fact, in 2010 our website usage is up 20 per cent already," Kavanagh said.

"So we think this has got to do with the real interest in the e-books. And I think because the explosion has been quite sudden, there's a lot of library staff, too, that are feeling like 'Holy! I need to know more about this.'" 

The Coquitlam Public Library has also seen its membership rise, and while libraries generally see more visitors during recessions, said deputy director Silvana Harwood, e-books appear to be the driving factor.

"Overall we're seeing an increase in checkouts and renewals, especially in the area of audio and e-book checkout where people can check items out themselves to their own computers," she said.  

The number of people looking for electronic books more than tripled in 2009, she said.