This library has been different from the beginning: No library card. No late fees. No waiting for books on hold.
Ebooks Minnesota is all online, available to anyone in the state with an internet connection.
"All the barriers there are with regular library services, we removed them," said Valerie Horton, director of Minitex, an organization that supports libraries across the state and runs the Ebooks Minnesota program.
After starting as a two-year pilot program in February 2016, the online collection now has more than 4,000 titles ranging from local history to sci-fi thrillers, about 80 percent of which come from local publishers. Minitex, a joint project of the Minnesota Officer of Higher Education and University of Minnesota, will also add about 3,500 children's titles at the end of July, doubling the collection.
Print books still dominate library collections, but e-book offerings are growing rapidly. From 2010 to 2016, e-book collections across the country grew 2,000 percent while the number of print volumes fell about 10 percent, according to data from the Public Libraries Survey by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Museum and Library Services. At Minnesota libraries, e-book collections doubled while physical collections dipped 8 percent.
But Ebooks Minnesota is different from many other library e-book collections, Horton said, because it does not require library membership for users and its books can be read by an unlimited number of people at a time — rather than having a few digital copies of a book available for checkout. Readers can access the same resources simultaneously anywhere within state using the Ebooks Minnesota website or app.
Thousands of downloads
There is a catch: Readers won't find many bestsellers here due to strict usage rights. That worried Horton at first, but it hasn't stopped readers. Since Ebooks Minnesota launched in February 2016, users have downloaded titles ranging from "Ariana Grande" to "Big Book of Bass" hundreds of times each, amounting to tens of thousands of downloads across the collection.
The program's $250,000 annual budget is paid for by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, Minnesota Department of Education, public libraries and grants.
Lisa Von Drasek, one of the librarians involved in the project's development, said Ebooks Minnesota has garnered outside attention as few projects like this exist nationally.
"We are modeling for the nation," said Von Drasek, the curator of the Children's Literature Research Collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries. "And part of what we do as librarians and educators is think about what's next, how we can best serve and how we can share what we're learning."
In Moorhead, Ebooks Minnesota has filled gaps in its existing e-book library, said Jenny Rodger, public services supervisor with the Lake Agassiz Regional Library.
"It's kind of a second half of our collection," she said.
The community of 42,000 used Ebooks Minnesota in fall 2016 for its "One Book, One Community" program, an annual Fargo-Moorhead area book club. They chose "The Latehomecomer," Kao Kalia Yang's memoir chronicling her Hmong family's journey from a Thailand refugee camp to St. Paul.
Horton has also seen schools across the state use the program. Teachers at one school asked kids of different ages to look for books on koalas, and titles about the marsupial climbed the most-read list. For her, seeing that real-world impact is what's most gratifying.
"To actually see the work we do get incorporated into the lives of children and how they do their assignments … I mean, that's kind of why I'm a librarian," Horton said.
Chris Bowling • 612-673-4434