The Hanover College, city-county and Ivy Tech Community College libraries went together to subscribe to an electronic library collection available online to all of their patrons.

The collection has 24,000 e-books with no checkout length restrictions or limits on the number of people who can read a title at the same time. The titles include books on study skills, career development and the arts. The e-books can be downloaded and read on any device that is JAVA-enabled such as an iPad, notebook or desktop computer.

To use what the library directors call ebrary, go to http://site.ebrary.com/lib/jcl. Log on using a Jefferson County Library card, Hanover College ID or Ivy Tech ID. For more information on access, contact any of the three libraries.

The cost of the subscription to Public Library Complete would have been prohibitive for any one of the libraries alone, the library directors said in a news release. The subscription was funded as a one-year trial to determine community interest.

There are several advantages to having an e-book library, the directors said. They include:

• The libraries can expand their collections in ways not otherwise feasible. For the Ivy Tech and Hanover College libraries, new book acquisitions typically focus on supporting curriculum and research needs of the library's users. Now, the e-library opens up a realm of career and study materials that should prove useful to their student patrons, as well as a range of fiction and hobby titles. For the city-county public library, the subscription is a first foray into electronic books.

• The electronic library will greatly increase the number of Spanish-language books available to Jefferson County residents. More than 4,200 books in Spanish are available, which the directors said positions the libraries not only to better serve the Hispanic population but also to be a valuable resource to students studying the language.

• The e-library increases options for people who might not be fully able to use traditional library resources. Books being available at any time through the Internet means greater convenience to patrons, including those with limited mobility, the directors said. Also, patrons can use a text-to-speech function, which the directors said might be helpful to people who are visually impaired or who have reading disabilities.

The joint subscription grew out of a series of informal meeting last year where the directors of Duggan Library at Hanover College, the Ivy Tech Madison library and the public library discussed how the libraries could together improve service to patrons, the directors said.

They soon discovered that each library was considering ways of tapping into the growing popularity of e-books and realized that a united effort would open up new possibilities for the community.

The three libraries have a history of cooperation through reciprocal borrowing, community book sales and assistance with publicity for special events, the director said.

"We've always collaborated for users to access our respective resources, but this is the first time we've collaborated in purchasing resources," Ken Gibson, library director at Hanover College, said in the press release. He said the tradition of working together allowed the project to move more quickly and smoothly than if they were building new relationships from scratch.

Virgie Dowell, interim director of the Jefferson County Public Library, encouraged readers to log on and start exploring on their own, but she also said that library staff members are trained and ready to assist users.

The libraries are working together to spread the word about the new resource, including reaching out to local high schools.

Tim Renners, library director at the Ivy Tech campus in Madison, stressed that patrons are not limited to library hours when it comes to using the electronic library materials and are instead free to access the materials at whatever time is convenient. Gibson said the fact that the books are searchable will allow students to make more efficient use of their research time. Rather than poring through an entire book to find out whether it will be useful to their paper, students can run a quick search and immediately hone in on the information they seek, he said.

Dowell said that providing this service shows patrons that library staff members are aware of the new ways that people have begun to interact with books.

Gibson terms the endeavor "another way we can reach out to the community." For Ivy Tech, part of the funding for the subscription came from its community foundation, made possible by the James Scott memorial gift. Renners said the use of the gift "does make a grand statement: A gift to the Ivy Tech foundation is an investment in our community."