Kern County Library Foundation donations are bringing the electronic dreams of local library officials to life, funding two years of free e-book borrowing of hot titles plus installation of self-check out stations and a wi-fi hot spot at Beale Memorial Library.

And Friends of the Library groups are chipping in to ignite wi-fi hot spots at the southwest Bakersfield and Ridgecrest branch libraries.

Library patrons ask about e-books daily, interim Kern County Library Director Sherry Gomez told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Now that OverDrive, a business that vends e-books to library systems, has connected with Amazon to provide content to Kindle users, it's time for Kern County's library system to sign on, Gomez said.

The Library Foundation has committed $36,000 over the next two years to purchase the technology platform and the rights for library users to check out the most popular new releases and major book titles.

That's the whole cost of the effort, Gomez said.

"Based on the evidence in the professional journals, e-books are just taking off," Gomez said.

Library card holders who own a Kindle, Nook or iPad would all be able to sign on to the Kern County Library Web page, navigate to an e-book section and "check out" a digital version of the book of their choice on their mobile e-reader.

If the book is already checked out -- because copies of the book would be limited -- the user would be put onto a waiting list to receive the material, just like if they tried to check out a hard copy of the book at a library branch, Gomez said.

"It gives us a year to get the word out and then another year to see how people are using it," Gomez said of the two-year plan.

Don Murfin, president of the Kern County Library Foundation, said the e-book assistance the foundation gave was aimed at meeting the goals library staff have developed.

"The library staff has been working on it for some time and has been very concerned about keeping up with technology," he said.

The Library Foundation also chipped in $67,000 to bring four self-check out stations to the Beale Memorial Library.

Gomez said three stations are being purchased and will be placed at the main check-out counter while the fourth will be installed in the audio-visual section.

The stations will allow library patrons to swipe their library card and the book, DVD or CD they want to borrow without waiting in what can at times be long lines at the counter.

The self-service stations will also ease pressures on a library staff that has been thinned by years of budget cuts, Gomez said, and allow them to focus on checking in returned titles, pulling materials for library transfer and other duties.

"We thought it would be a really good way to help the library staff to provide services. They're spread fairly thin," Murfin said.

And Beale Memorial Library plus the southwest Bakersfield and Ridgecrest branches are all in the process of -- or have recently acquired -- a wireless hot-spot.

That will allow people to bring their own computers to the library and, hopefully, ease the demand for computer stations, Gomez said.

Gomez said the foundation's help has been critical to making the changes.

"We appreciate everything they are doing to move forward," she said. "We've wanted to do these types of things for quite a while."

"We want the library to be on the forefront of being responsive to needs in 2012 and beyond," Supervisor Karen Goh, who praised Gomez for the progress made, said Tuesday.

Goh said innovation is a goal supervisors are giving all county departments.

"We have less money these days and I feel through the creativity of the staff here and ideas that come in from the community, we can figure out how to provide services at an even higher level despite the difficulties in the economy."

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