Area book lovers have a new way to borrow books from their public library in Lehighton, Palmerton, Jim Thorpe, or Slatington. Library patrons can now borrow electronic books from the Carbon Lehigh Downloadable Library, an electronic consortium of 11 libraries in Carbon and Lehigh counties.

"I think the smaller libraries will benefit from this," said Palmerton Area Library director Diane Danielson. "All of the libraries, large or small, will benefit from the consortium."

Each of the 11 libraries taking part in the Downloadable Library has devoted a portion of their annual book purchasing budget to eBooks. Their combined purchasing power means more books available for the readers in Carbon and Lehigh counties a true win for local library patrons.

"We're really excited to be a part of it, and have been from the start," added Lehighton Area Memorial Library director Becky Wanamaker. "We have had a lot of people asking if we offer this technology. It's a popular way to read books."

The Downloadable Library comes just in time for many library patrons. Local libraries saw a surge in eBook interest after the holidays, when local residents received Nooks, Kindles and other eReaders for Christmas.

The Carbon Lehigh Downloadable Library is offered through Overdrive.com, the nation's leading online lending library for public libraries and schools. More than 18,000 public and school libraries participate in Overdrive's e-lending services.

Nearly 16 million books are checked out of the Overdrive lending network each year, demonstrating phenomenal growth in the eBook industry and library patrons' willingness to adopt this technology.

"Library eBooks have increased the public library's ability to continue to serve their mission and to reach their community," said David Burleigh, Overdrive's Director of Marketing.

"Libraries always have been, and will continue to be, a place where people gather to find information. This tool has enhanced the library's ability to serve its mission in the digital age."

From Stephen King to the "Magic Tree House Series," the Carbon and Lehigh County consortium currently offers 400 electronic and audio books for patrons with a current library card. These books can be viewed on the popular Kindle, Nook, or iPad tablet readers, or on any Windows or Mac computer with a free eBook reader application.

Library patrons with an Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, iPhone or iPod Touch can also download eBooks directly to their mobile device.

Just like borrowing a hardcover or paperback book from the library, only one user can borrow a book at a time. Users can add their name to a waiting list if the book they want is checked out. Once the book is returned, the user will receive an email notification that the book is available.

The consortium will be able to track the number of books checked out and placed on waiting lists to gauge demand of the new Downloadable Library. This information will likely be used to determine the program's speed of growth.

"As the year goes by, if we see that people are utilizing this more we may shift money from books to electronic books," added Danielson, noting that many patrons are excited about the new offerings and eager to begin borrowing eBooks.

"We hope that patrons will be patient as we build the collection over the first year. We will learn as we go from other libraries and also from patrons' comments and requests."

While the Carbon Lehigh Downloadable Library currently offers just 400 eBooks and audio books, the consortium has access to purchase more than 600,000 titles from 1,000 book publishers. Overdrive hopes to gain access to additional publishers as more authors and publishers make the transition to digital media.

"It's a dynamic time for publishers. The bulk of business is shifting, from a sales standpoint, from print to digital," adds Burleigh.

After browsing through the Downloadable Library, users simply check out and download their books to a computer or mobile device. Each user can check out two eBooks or audio books at a time.

Books can be checked out for 7 or 14 days. Once this one- or two-week window has lapsed, the book is "returned" electronically and removed from the user's computer or reader.

Because books are returned electronically, gone are the days of forgetting to return a book and facing a small late fee. You also won't have to worry about icy roads or being unable to get to the library before it closes.

"The title expires off the device. They don't have to go back and forth to the library to return books," says Burleigh. "People really enjoy the seamless process."

To utilize the Downloadable Library, you will need a valid library card with a bar code and pin. This card must be issued from your home library. If you do not have a library card, you can request a card by visiting your home library and showing proof of address.

The eBook system is user friendly, said Danielson, noting that if a user attempts to download an eBook without the proper software, they will be prompted to download a free version of the software needed to read their eBook.

"We do plan on holding some training sessions in the future," she added, noting that the Downloadable Library also has a robust online tutorial and Help section for users who are comfortable walking themselves through the process.

Over the next few weeks, local libraries will focus on mastering the new library functions and assisting users who have questions, learning alongside their patrons as more use the Downloadable Library.

"We've been having a lot of fun using the new technology," said Wanamaker, noting that their employees are currently becoming familiar with the library and check out process. "We hope that it will be beneficial to a lot of people."

To access the Carbon Lehigh Downloadable Library, go to cldl.lib.overdrive.com or visit your local library's website.