BY Christopher Schuetze SPECIAL TO THE DAILY NEWS
Benjamin Carrasquillo Jr. takes advantage of NYPL's free ebooks.
City library patrons don't have to blush now when checking out books with racy titles like, "In Bed with the Duke."
And if they do blush, no one will notice - thanks to the growing availability of downloadable e-books on virtual library shelves.
It's a brave new world where "Brave New World" is available in both digital and old-fashioned book form.
"E-books aren't changing the library's mission but rather influencing the ways we can deliver our mission," said Anne Thornton, director of reference and research services at the New York Public Library, which covers the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island.
"You have to respond to what your patrons want," noted Michael Santangelo, who oversees almost 13,000 titles available online as curator of the electronic book collection at the Brooklyn Public Library. "We are just trying to go where people are at right now, and we are trying to build upon that."
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" was the most popular e-book last month at the New York Public Library, while Harlequin titles like "In Bed with the Duke" and "The Innocents Surrender" were among the favorites at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Most e-books are checked out in the evenings, when most brick-and-mortar libraries are closed.
The New York Public Library offers 33,000 e-books, compared with roughly 4.8 million paper books. But the nation's largest public library and the BPL are helping write the book on the future of reading in the age of the iPad and Kindle.
"I would not have thought, 10 years ago, that I would be comfortable with reading digital books," said Thornton.
She said e-book reader technology has advanced enough to pass her test of "the three B's" - beach, bath and bed.
Digital books can be downloaded directly from the library's Web site by cardholders. Most titles expire after two weeks, though in some cases members are asked to delete the file, so the license can be transferred to the next patron waiting in a virtual line.
Thornton explained the NYPL automatically purchases licenses for a given title if there are more than five patrons waiting for it - creating a systematic approach to a user-curated collection.
Nearly 5,400 public libraries in America provide some kind of access to electronic books, said a recent study by the American Library Association.
Most of them buy books and their digital licenses from OverDrive, which stores books on its servers for libraries to use. This prevents overloading of library databases, and gives libraries new titles just hours after their release.
"OverDrive is determining the content," said Sari Feldman, president of the Public Library Association. "We are not in the business, nor should we be in the business of negotiating digital rights."
Electronic books borrowed from libraries are primarily being read on computers and compatible smart phones, not on Kindles or iPads, because of proprietary format issues. But Thornton is confident that the technology will soon overcome the problems.
"I'm interested in seeing our library content on iPad," she said.
Despite the growth of interest in electronic books, librarians aren't worried about the future of the physical library, where patrons flock for many reasons: to attend events, to use computers and to get their fix for paper.
"People will still come to libraries to look for community, education and inspiration," said Thornton.