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Seattle users drive library e-book collections over New York's

There's a high demand for e-books at Seattle Public Library but print circulation is also robust.
Erin Hennessey
There's a high demand for e-books at Seattle Public Library but print circulation is also robust.

Seattle has always been a city that likes to read. But if the Seattle Public Library's growing e-book collection and its high usage is any indication, even more people are reading more books. And, we're also outpacing New York.

The Seattle Public Library now has just over 100,000 digitized books compared to the New York Public Library which has about 88,000.

Kirk Blankenship, head of electronic resources at Seattle Public Library, says Seattle has built one of the largest e-book collections in the country – pushed in large part by the high demand  in the Pacific Northwest.

"We're in a good spot here in Seattle. We know our users are bringing a technological inclination to the library. ... There are a lot of people here that have that sort of early adapter mentality and I think that leads us to that same position. We had this awareness even in 2005 when were were just getting started with relatively small collections, we knew we needed to meet that need and that it was going to be coming."

The first wave of electronic content was driven by the iPod back in 2005. It was all about audio (audio books, music, etc.). Since then, the library's e-book collection and the use of the collection has doubled year to year. Still, Blankenship says the demand for print books is as robust as ever.

"It's an interesting phenomenon. It seems to me that new people are coming to the library in addition to the people who are there or they're reading twice as much!"

Some of the more popular print books are heavily illustrated: kids books, gardening books and cook books.

"Cook books are always in high demand," says Blankenship.

Supply not keeping up with demand

The big issue for libraries these days, including the Seattle Public Library, is getting enough e-content to meet the demand.

Random House recently tripled its e-book prices to public libraries. And out of six major publishers, four don't sell their e-books to libraries, including Simon & Schuster and Penguin.

Blankenship says what's happening in the e-book world is like what has happened in the music industry, which has been working out copyright issues and artist compensation. 

"I've always held that we are about five or six years behind where the music industry was. That industry went through a big upheaval and it's stabilized to a certain degree. So maybe in five years we'll have a better sense of how it's shaking out."

Before accepting the position of News Director in 1996, she spent five years as knkx's All Things Considered Host and filed news stories for knkx and NPR. Erin is a native of Spokane and a graduate of the University of Washington and London's City University - Center for Journalism Studies. Erin worked in the film industry and as a print journalist in London and New York before returning to Seattle to work in broadcast news.