"How Do I Download to my Device?" One Library's Way of Handling the Surge in eBook Queries

By: Leah Kraus, Director of Web Services, Fayetteville Free Library

Fayetteville Director of Teen Services, Pete Cioppa, helping one of their patrons, Karen Littler.

I heard I can download library books to my (Kindle/Nook/iPad/phone/etc). How can I do that?”

This is a question that reference librarians hear almost hourly at the Fayetteville Free Library, a suburban public library in upstate New York.


Since 2007, Fayetteville Free Library has loaned downloadable materials via a countywide OverDrive digital collection. While the library has seen steady growth in eReader/eBook reference queries over the past 5 years, thesurge that has followed the 2011 holiday season is truly unprecedented.

According to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life project, e-reader and tablet ownership in the US jumped from 18 percent in December 2011 to 29 percent in January 2012. With so many of our patrons suddenly owning e-readers and tablets, not to mention smart phones, the rapid rise in this sort of query is a challenge facing public libraries across the board.

To handle the demand for (sometimes time-consuming) technical assistance, Fayetteville Free Library has created device-specific “How-To” download guides, which are displayed at the front of the library, as well as on the library’s web site. Librarians talk with patrons to get a basic understanding of the level of assistance they need; someone who is computer/device-confident can simply be directed to these handouts.

For patrons requiring a greater level of assistance, the library has instituted a program called “Tech Times.” Tech Times are 30-minute sessions where patrons can get one-on-one assistance with any basic computer or device issue. Overwhelmingly, “Tech Times” are filled by patrons require assistance with downloading to their devices.

Each librarian at Fayetteville Free has been trained on OverDrive and popular devices, and is tasked with offering “Tech Times.” Rather than having one in-house expert, anyone manning the reference desk is prepared to answer questions and provide download assistance.
To meet patron demand, the FFL doubled the number of Tech Times offered per month from 7 in 2011 to 15 in 2012. Still, Tech Times are booked out almost a month in advance.

To supplement these learning opportunities, the FFL has also begun offering device-specific classes in a small group setting (up to 5 people). February featured a “Kindle Café” class, and March features “Intro to iPad.”

The Fayetteville Free Library has been able to meet the need for e-reader/e-book support by providing different types of technical assistance to different types of patrons. While some only need to be pointed in the right direction or quickly walked through the process at the Reference Desk, others require more in-depth support. The other key to meeting demand for eBook/eReader support lies in the across-the-board staff training that allows everyone to share in the responsibility of answering e-book queries.

Leah Kraus is the Director of Web Services Fayetteville Free Library. She can be reached at lkraus@fayettevillefreelibrary.org.