Readers who like to curl up with a bit of technology along with a good book can check out a new option at local libraries this spring.

Readers who like to curl up with a bit of technology along with a good book can check out a new option at local libraries this spring.

Thanks to a $100,000 grant of federal Library Services and Technology Act funds, a consortium of Oregon libraries will launch a collection of electronic books that can be read on digital devices such as Sony's Readers or the Nook from Barnes & Noble.

"That's going to be really popular," said Kim Wolfe, manager of the Medford library. "Everybody has been waiting for this."

The State Library Board of Trustees awarded the grant this month to the Oregon Digital Library Consortium, which includes 26 library systems around the state, said Wolfe, who is a member of the consortium's board.

The consortium will match the grant with an additional $26,000 and expects to buy about 5,000 e-books to start the collection. Wolfe said the collection likely will focus on serving adult readers initially with a full cross-section of nonfiction and fiction in a variety of genres. Officials expect it to become available sometime in March.

The e-books will be in the EPUB format, which is quickly becoming a standard format, state library officials said in a release announcing the grant. Online searches show nearly two dozen e-readers are compatible with the format, although the popular Amazon Kindle can only read books purchased from Amazon and won't be able to access the library collection.

Library cardholders from participating public and community college libraries will be able to go to the consortium's Web site, library2go.lib.overdrive.com, to "check out" an e-book to a personal computer, then transfer it to an e-reader. When the loan period is up, the e-book expires from the computer and is available for someone else to check out at the Library2Go site.

Rogue Valley readers can find an easy link to the Library2Go site at jcls.org, the Jackson County Library Services site.

Readers are excited about the new technology, which provides the ability to carry a whole shelf of books in a device about the size of a paperback book, library officials here and around the state said. A technology called e-ink produces sharper, clearer characters than computer screens and can be viewed in a variety of lighting conditions. Readers can change the size of the type easily, too, e-reader advocates said.

State library officials also touted the advantages e-books offer libraries. With an average cost of about $12, they cost less than hardback books. They never wear out, can't be stolen and are returned automatically, saving staff time and late fees.

Another advantage is that libraries can pool their collection budgets to share one collection that easily can be made available to patrons all over, the release about the e-book grant said.

"We've pooled our money to get this new technology," Wolfe said of the entire Library2Go site, which has provided audio books and videos to library users across the state for several years.

About 3 million Oregonians can access that site, officials said.

Mary Curry, a 62-year-old Medford resident and longtime library volunteer, has been a loyal borrower of the site's audio books, which she listens to while doing housework.

She said Library2Go is easy to use and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so she can find a book to listen to anytime. Classics are always available, but recently released books might have a short waiting period.

She expects e-book availability to be similar and said she is considering getting an e-reader, now that she knows which format the library will be using.

"I'm ready to go get a reader now," Wolfe said, although she noted that prices might still drop.

The Sony Reader Pocket Edition, one of the lower-priced versions now available, costs $199, while the Touch Edition costs $299 on Sony's Web site. The Nook costs $259 at barnesandnoble.com.

State Librarian Jim Scheppke serves on a task force of state librarians exploring how public libraries might purchase inexpensive e-book readers that could be loaned to library users, ensuring access to all, the state's news release said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.