If you were wondering about Kindles, Nooks, iPads and other electronic e-book readers and tablet computers, your local public library might be the place to go to find out.
E-books, electronic readers and tablets are just one of the new ways that public libraries are keeping up with the latest advances in consumer information technology.
Some libraries even loan out the devices, while others loan out e-books and audio books that patrons can load onto the readers and tablets they already own.
Libraries Are Community Centers
Libraries are also becoming the place where people can go to get hands-on help learning to use the contraptions they may have bought, received as gifts or are thinking of getting.
Librarians were also quick to note that they provide a lot more technology than that. For instance, during the extended power outages due to Tropical Storm Irene and the Halloween snowstorm, libraries filled up with people who brought their laptops to use the wireless connections for checking their emails.
"It turned the library into a community crisis center," said Fred Danowski, information systems librarian at the Milford Public Library.
"That’s something we didn’t have 10 years ago," said Woodbridge Town Library Director Todd Fabian.
Library Cards Still the Key
One thing technology hasn’t made obsolete, however, is the library card. To get access to most of the new technology at the public libraries, patrons have to use their library cards, which now come with bar codes to swipe through a scanner.
Karen Jensen, director of the , said that library loans out Kindles and Nooks -- two types of e-book readers.
Hagaman just acquired a new Kindle Fire, a combination e-book reader and tablet computer. Jensen said the library doesn’t plan to loan out that device at this time, but the library staff will soon offer instruction on how to use it.
It is also one of the libraries that subscribe to Overdrive, a service that provides e-books on loan for a two-week stretch to anyone with a reader. Jensen said patrons can even borrow an e-book over their own home Internet connection, as long as they enter the identification number on their library card.
Each library only gets one copy of the book, and after two weeks it de-activates itself and can no longer be read.
Fabian said one reason for their popularity is that hundreds, even thousands of e-books can be loaded on a reader device. For someone on vacation, carrying a reader is much more convenient than a stack of books.
During the four decades she has been a librarian, Diane Kurtz, head of Information Technology Services for the Stratford Library, said computer technology has completely transformed libraries. But she hasn’t seen anything like the changes involving e-books.
Almost no one had an e-book reader two years ago, but now a majority of books are sold in that format.
"People adapt to new technology, but I’ve never seen people adapt to anything this quickly," Kurtz said.
To help them, she said Stratford Library holds learning two-hour-long "Technology Sandbox" workshops. People can show up when a "Sandbox" is scheduled and receive personal, one-on-one help learning how to use the latest electronic readers and tablet computers, or any of the myriad other technological applications the library uses.
Sandboxes are scheduled for Dec. 12 and 13, and Jan. 3 and 9, but you must be a Stratford resident with a Stratford library card.
Database Services and Audio Books
Every sixth grader in Stratford will visit the town library for a field trip sometime during the school year to learn how to use the computerized catalogs and special databases that are available with a few quick mouse clicks and a library card.
Most libraries belong to a library consortium that provides access to database services that give patrons access to information about auto repair, home improvement tips and practice tests for a wide variety of professional licenses and certifications.
Several librarians noted that e-book reader apps are available for the new "Smart" cell phones, and they work just as good as the bigger, tablet-size devices.
Libraries also let patrons download audio books onto their iPods and other recording devices, which might also be available on Smart phones.
Fabian said the Woodbridge Library installed a bright board, which is essentially a 40-inch, flat screen television, and has it playing a continuous loop of information about upcoming library programs and community events. "We tried it and it’s been well received," he said.