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As libraries struggle with e-booksand audiobook costs, how do AZ's libraries fare?

Libraries across the country are struggling with the cost of providing e-books, audiobooks and other digital materials. Several local libraries use third-party vendors to "e-lend" content.

Jessica Jupitus with the Tempe Public Library said digital content is almost as popular as physical materials.

“We average between 35- to 50,000 items a month, physically and virtually,” said Jupitus. “So about a hundred thousand a month.”

Having the kind of systems needed to lend a large enough selection of digital materials wouldn’t be as cost effective or efficient, according to McKay Wellikson, whose work with the library focuses, in part, on managing that back catalog.

“The biggest hindrance is that you just can’t keep as big of a back collection of books because of the expiring model that they have,” said Wellikson.

Managing a large, diverse catalog has always been a challenge. But each vendor has different rules around what expires when, which presents a new one.

“A hardcover, for a library cost, could be under $20. But an e-book version might be $60,” Jupitus said. “So we could buy three more hardcovers to replace that $60 e-book in, maybe, the same amount of time.”

Jupitus pointed out that physical copies also become damaged and eventually have to be replaced. Keeping funding on pace with community needs, she said, is key to ensuring access to other ways of reading books that are more accessible to people with impaired vision or hearing.

“This is a challenge, but not a crisis for us, at this point — depending on what happens with the economy at large,” said Jupitus. “In times of economic downturn, the use of libraries increases significantly. So, [we’re] making sure that we are able to accommodate that need.”

Kirsten Dorman is a field correspondent at KJZZ. Born and raised in New Jersey, Dorman fell in love with audio storytelling as a freshman at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2019.