Libraries Use Internet to Entice Readers
By ELLIOTT MINOR
Patrons of the Dougherty County Library open their e-mail every day to find a chapter or so of a book. The hope is that these "five-minute reads" will get them to check the book out - or buy it. Even if they do neither, they can go to the library's Web site and share their thoughts on the excerpt with fellow readers.
The library in this south Georgia town is one of 3,000 nationwide using the Internet to serve both bookworms and the time-pressed. Book clubs and book teasers now are only a mouse click away.
"I hope it gets people in the habit of pleasure reading," said Jimmy Bass, manager of Dougherty County's Central Library. "These days, it's tough to find time to read. I work in a library and it's tough for me to find time."
The online book teasers are a big hit in Pasadena, Calif., where the public library has been using them for 18 months, said director Luis Herrera.
"It gives them an opportunity to know what's out there in the publishing world, to hook onto new titles," said Herrera, who is also president of the Public Library Association.
Libraries have always assisted readers in making book selections by maintaining best-seller lists and giving advice on popular titles and authors.
"This is another avenue for that ... online," Herrera said of Pasadena's "Chapter-a-Day.""It's proven very successful."
The service comes from Suzanne Beecher, a lifelong reader from Sarasota, Fla. She began offering the book teasers in 2000 because some part-time employees of her family's software company were working mothers who said they simply didn't have time to read.
So on a whim, Beecher typed a chapter of a book and sent it to them in an e-mail. From their responses, she knew they were hooked.
"I realized if you could get business people and stay-at-home moms involved in a book, so that reading is on their short list, that's quite an accomplishment," she said.
Beecher founded DearReader.com to provide the service to libraries. She has since added a service for businesses, featuring professional development books.
"There are so many things you can do. Reading has taken a back seat," she said. "It's kind of overwhelming to go into a bookstore or library. There isn't a lot of browsing time, unfortunately. The easiest way is to sample a book for yourself."
DearReader.com and librarians work together to select the books. Then, Beecher's employees - mostly stay-at-home moms scattered across the country - type up and send out the e-mails.
Readers join the online book club at their local library or through the library's Web site. They can join 11 clubs, including mystery, romance, science fiction, inspiration, horror and teen. There's even a club that allows them to sample books yet to be published.
"We tell people to read only what they enjoy reading," she said. "If you don't like a book, just hit the delete key."
Herrera said he believes there's a renewed interest in reading, despite the many distractions and hectic lifestyles. He points to an 8 percent increase in visits to major urban public libraries since 1999, 11 percent in the year following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It's folks wanting to get back to basics," he said. "Reading is one of the pleasures. Libraries provide a variety of activities - cultural, homework help and the Internet. I think there's a resurgence of reading, which is very exciting."
Book clubs in general are an excellent way to promote reading, said Carol Brey-Casiano, president-elect of the American Library Association.
"The cool thing about DearReader.com is that you can share books with people you've never met, potentially around the world," said Brey-Casiano, director of the public library in El Paso, Texas. "I think it enhances the experience when it's shared."
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