The large 74-foot, colorful 18-wheel tractor trailer sitting in the parking lot of the Miller Branch of the Howard County Library System beckoned patrons into its cool rooms on a warm day on Aug. 21. Though there were no books to be seen, the trailer offered the latest best sellers, classic titles, magazines and more through digital technology.
The Digital Bookmobile has been touring the United States since June. Its mission: to help people learn how to access their library's digital collections. Howard County has 42,547 eBooks and 18,569 eAudio digital titles.
"There are a whole range of ... devices," said Jessie Date-Ampofo, digital events media specialist for OverDrive, owners of the Digital Bookmobile. "The most common question, is, 'How do I get started?'"
People stepping into the Bookmobile were met with a video welcoming them and inviting them to explore the trailer's devices. People could ask questions from the three OverDrive staff members, read brochures or test different devices in their quest to learn about ebooks and eaudiobooks.
"I'm really excited this is here," said Kim Montenyohl, e-curriculum specialist and data analyst for Howard County Library System, of the Bookmobile. "The biggest barrier is teaching it. People get frustrated."
While the library offers classes on how to download books on personal devices and smartphones, having the Bookmobile visit provided an opportunity for people to drop by, ask questions and get one-on-one assistance.
"It's a different process for each device," Montenyohl said. "This helps people figure it out."
"I have this thing my son gave to me," said Eoin Ocolman, of Ellicott City, clutching his device. "I wanted eBooks. They showed me how to download."
More than 100 people had visited the Digital Bookmobile by Friday afternoon, Date-Ampofo said. Many brought their own devices for help, while others were shown on the trailer's devices what to do.
"The girls both have Nooks and we don't know how to use them," said Patti Morse, when she entered with her three daughters. "The idea of a tablet is appealing because it is a different medium to read. They both read so fast. It will be nice to be able to borrow books."
Ellen Kern, of Elkridge, stopped by to learn about downloading books from the library. While she has purchased books for her device, she has never borrowed books before.
"When I'm traveling, I use it and at night when it is dark and I am in bed, " Kern said of when she uses her device. "I always do read on it. I do prefer book form so that you can curl up with it."
Susan Stonesifer, Miller's branch manager, noted that the library still offered physical books.
"Ebooks are optional," Stonesifer said. "The good news is we also have physical books. It is a very different experience reading a physical book and ebook."
Ebooks and eaudiobooks are one of the fastest growing parts of the Howard County library collection, according to Montenyohl. Besides lacking the physical form of a book, ebooks also do not have to be returned to the library. Rather, the books just "vanish" from the device when the due date arrives.
"There are no late fees," Stonesifer said."You don't have to worry about, 'did I return it?'"
Ebooks are good for patrons who are less mobile, Montenyohl said. Ebooks also can have their font adjusted for easier reading. While OverDrive is one of the main suppliers of digital media to the library, the system also uses other digital distributors to complete its collections.
"People have really taken to it." Montenyohl said, of ebooks."We pay attention to requests and make sure we buy what people want to read."