E--reader disappearances put stop to Palmer library lending

Zaz Hollander
Loren Holmes

PALMER -- File this story under "crime in trusting small-town Alaska."

Palmer's public library used to let patrons check out a small selection of $259 e-readers. Then, earlier this spring, a few patrons stopped returning them. Three of the library's six book-downloading tablets have vanished.

The library knows who checked out the two Kindle Fires and a Nook Color, library director Beth Skow said recently.

"Now those patrons, their emails don't work, their phones don't work and their addresses don't work," Skow said. "It's very, very sad. A few ruin it for the rest."

The city stopped letting people check out e-readers. Then it forwarded the names of the e-reader bandits to a collection agency.

Palmer, like other libraries in the Mat-Su Borough, received technology grant funding from the Alaska State Library last year to buy e-readers and educate library staff on how to use them. The point wasn't giving away free tablets but rather allowing people to take them for a test ride before choosing one to buy for themselves, several library directors around the Valley said.

But the color e-readers stolen from Palmer were funded not by the state but out of the library's small budget to supplement the grant-purchased black-and-white ones, Skow said.

"My book budget's been cut so there's no way I can keep replacing them, so I'm going to keep them in-house," she said.

Palmer's library, dedicated in 1985, tends toward old-fashioned attributes like a large children's reading section and clusters of chairs and couches for reading. A bank of computers allows people to look for work or browse the Internet.

"As a library we try to do everything for our patrons," Skow said. "We're not the library that shushes people. We have games for children. We try to reach everybody."

Wasilla's library also loans out e-readers and continues to do so even though a few have walked out the door and not come back.

Wasilla's library took advantage of the same grant as Palmer's to get 11 e-readers, "12 if you count the Sony e-reader, but no one ever seems to borrow that one," library director K.J. Martin-Albright said in an email.

The library has had "two e-readers borrowed and not returned" in as many years, Martin-Albright said.

Wasilla's adult and electronic services librarian, Jean Powell, said the library still allows patrons to check out e-readers. Library staff download books from a particular genre on each one.

"There's some we haven't totally given up on getting back," Powell said. "We definitely lost our science-fiction Kindle and replaced that one."

Other Mat-Su libraries, however, aren't so generous.

Library staff at Big Lake and Trapper Creek said their e-readers don't leave the building.

Anchorage's Z.J. Loussac Public Library doesn't have any e-readers, spokeswoman Toni McPherson said.

The library has iPads and MacBooks that stay locked in a cabinet except for in-house use, McPherson said. There are plans to add more kinds of technology like e-readers to teach people how to use them but they won't be available to check out.

She likened it to the art collection that Loussac staff once allowed out of the library but later stopped due to staff cutbacks and theft, McPherson said. "It just was not worth our while to keep giving it away."

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 907-352-6705.