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10-15-04 Wave of the future

By Janie Southard

  Snowy night, cozy fire and a favorite author's latest book -- that's been a idyll for nearly all bookworms ever since books came to the masses a few hundred years ago.
Mary Jo Stilwell, public relations coordinator at St. Marys Community Public Library, calls up an e-book on her computer to demonstrate the on-screen image looks like a real book page. <br>
  Not much of that scene has changed over the decades -- well, except for the book part. Technology has marched into that cozy winter scene skipping over hardbacks, softbacks and paperbacks as it zaps electronic books (e-books) into readers' hands.
  Jean Shaw, Mercer County Public Library audio and visual director, doesn't think it's quite as cozy to cuddle up with an e-book.
  Reading an e-book keeps the reader either at the desk computer, or balancing a laptop, or reading on the small screen of a small PDA (personal digital assistant) like a Palm Pilot. It seems a far cry from the cozy fire scenario.
  "Actually, the whole idea of e-books is mindboggling to me," says Shaw, a 19-year veteran at the local library who said so far no one has come in the Celina library wanting e-books or information.  Most older readers cast a skeptical eye at mention of e-books. Reading is tactile far beyond a keyboard. It's the physical handling of a real book, the inky smell and the whisper of fanning vanilla-colored pages.
  But lifelong reader Rhonda Shelby, a language arts teacher at McBroom Junior High in St. Marys for the past 44 years, has been reading e-books for about three years and says she loves them.
  "Hardbacks are expensive, maybe $30 or more and I can't stand the wait for the paperback. It's so easy to download the e-book and just begin reading," Shelby told The Daily Standard via telephone last week.
  She says it took a little while to get used to the electronic format. "I do miss underlining or dog earing pages that have a great piece of writing that I want to point out to my students," she says.
  Shelby reads her e-books on the Palm Pilot her son gave her for Christmas.
  "It's just great for travel, or even around town. Anytime I have to wait I have my book with me," she says.
  Local libraries, including Mercer County, St. Marys, Fort Recovery and Rockford, get their e-books from SEO Consortium, a branch of the state library system.
  SEO Director Christine Tucker says the consortium maintains about 1,000 electronic books including contemporary and classic literature as well as technical and reference e-books, which were purchased with a federal grant. That grant also enabled SEO to get the electronic book system set up.
  "Because their copyrights have expired, the classics, like "Crime and Punishment" cost us about $3 to purchase. I'd say the average e-book is in the range of $10 to $20 dollars, mainly because we buy a lot of children's books which are less expensive," Tucker says.
  Some authors write exclusively for e-book distribution. Stephen King is one; however, there are reports of trouble in downloading his e-books.
  Manuscripts have been found of unpublished Louis L'Amour books that his descendants are considering putting in the e-book format.
  "L'Amour only wrote paperbacks, you know," Shelby says, "because he wanted to write for the average person. His descendants think the idea of e-books would please him."


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