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Washington Voices

County eBook program goes high-volume

Sat., Feb. 26, 2011, 12:30 a.m.

Project Gutenberg adds 15,000 free titles

Spokane County Library District users have been able to check out electronic books for the last year. But now the district has added access to more than 15,000 free titles that don’t have to be checked out with a library card or given back.

The district is partnering with Project Gutenberg, a volunteer effort to digitize older books with expired copyrights. The titles available range from census reports to classic novels by Mark Twain. There are even children’s books. “It’s an unusual eclectic mix of things,” said collection services manager Andrea Sharps.

The library website at includes a digital downloads area. There people with a library card can check out electronic books for seven or 14 days. It works on just about any smart phone or digital reader except the Kindle. Only one person can check out an electronic book at a time, just as with the physical books. But then the book returns itself.

“It knows to the second when it needs to be returned and it happens automatically,” Sharps said. “You don’t have to worry about things getting lost or damaged. You don’t have to worry about overdue charges.”

The library maintains a collection of adult, young adult and children’s books online. “It’s a mix of older content, classic titles as well as popular best sellers,” Sharps said. “We order content twice a month, so there’s always something new added to the collection.”

Sharps said usage of electronic books surged after Christmas and she theorizes that more affordable prices for digital readers allowed people to buy them as Christmas presents. In February 2010, only 404 electronic books were checked out. In January 2011 there were 2,095 checked out.

The library began offering a link to the Project Gutenberg items on Jan. 27. Since then 619 titles have been downloaded. People can click on the “additional eBooks” button on the digital download page to find it. The Project Gutenberg downloads are compatible with Kindles. People can also access the site themselves at

Despite the popularity of the electronic books and audio books online, the number of items checked out in the district’s 10 library branches have not been impacted, Sharps said. “We’re still having a very busy business checking things out,” she said. “Our digital download has become our 11th branch.”

People can visit the district’s website 24 hours a day to download books. “That’s really what the beauty of it is,” she said. “Some people don’t have the time to come to the library.”

The Spokane Public Library also offers electronic books and audio books that can be checked out by its library card holders at

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