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Listening to books isn't a new concept.

But listening to books in a self-contained, MP3 format is new for the North Olympic Library System.

All four branches, including Sequim, launched Playaways, on Sept. 14, with about 140 titles ranging from fiction to self-help books.

The small audio books only need one AAA battery, headphones and a finger to push play.

No CDs, cassettes or tech-savvy minds needed because directions are inside the box.

The Sequim branch got 50 Playaways and all were checked out within two days, said Lauren Dahlgren, Sequim branch manager.

"They were a huge hit," Dahlgren said. "For a lot of people, they've gone from books on cassette tape to CD. (Playaways) are very direct. You don't need to buy a MP3 player or any new equipment."

Paula Barnes, the libraries' executive director, said they planned to add only a few titles a month but now intend to add a few more on top of that.

"It's for people who want simplicity and don't want to bother with downloading," Barnes said.

Titles have been spread across the four libraries and can be searched for on www.nols.org by typing "Playaways." Barnes said titles are varied and can appeal to everyone. Library users can place holds on titles, too.

The user must provide batteries and earphones, but the libraries sell batteries for 50 cents each and ear buds for $1.50.

Future tech

Including Playaways in the library system was planned before the library levy lid lift was passed, Barnes said.

Each Playaway costs $15-$60.

"They've been in other libraries for a few years and we've been thinking about them," Barnes said. "People expect us to keep up with new formats."

In Sequim, the VHS tape section has been removed and transferred to other branches. Dahlgren said it was a space issue and that the titles still are available through request. Some of the titles are being replaced by DVD, she said, and people often ask about e-book availability.

The library system offers some e-book services through its website.

"We hope to do more with downloadable music and

e-books," Barnes said. "We have some e-books, but would love to loan e-book readers and some preloaded with books."



In with the old

Older technologies, such as CDs and VHS, remain popular in the system.

Barnes said VHS tapes are checked out but they aren't replaced when they wear out.

"We're not buying or adding to the collection, but there are a lot of people in our service area with VCRs," she said.

The library system continues buying CDs despite a declining presence in stores and overall sales nationwide.

"CDs are very popular," Dahlgren said.

Barnes said that as long as a certain medium has interest from users, they will keep it so long as space allows. The timeline for untouched materials varies among the branches.

"Staff is always looking for things that are accumulating, like a surplus of large print books or country CDs," Barnes said. "They do load leveling among themselves."

In March, Sequim's branch became the highest circulating of the four libraries in the system.

Despite Sequim's limited space, about 6,000 square feet in comparison to Port Angeles' 20,000 square feet, local users request the most items from the system.

"A lot of people place holds on titles held in other branches," Barnes said. "With the passing of the levy lid lift, we're simply going to buy more materials and at least get more materials circulated through Sequim."

For more information on Playaways and other library materials, visit www.nols.org or call 417-8500 (Port Angeles) or 683-1161 (Sequim).



Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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