ERIE — Gloria Pulford, clutching a Nook, squeezed into a small training room at Blasco Library with about 30 others.
Her grandson, Zach, was given the popular e-reader a year before as a birthday present, but it had sat mostly unused -- not because he didn't like it, but because neither he nor Pulford knew how to download books from the library's ever-growing digital collection.
"We've been slow to access" the digital book offerings "because we didn't know how," said Pulford, 63.
The library is trying to change that with free classes to teach patrons how to navigate the library's website and download books, music and videos to a variety of devices.
The most recent session, held in July, was standing room only.
"It's very telling," Executive Director Margaret Stewart said. "We thought we'd have 10, 15 people, and it was 34, I believe. "
Technology is only one barrier for some would-be e-borrowers.
A study by the Pew Research Center, published in June, showed that few e-book readers borrow digital offerings from libraries, turned off by compatibility issues and lack of selection. Others simply did not know whether their local library offered e-books and other digital works.
The Internet & American Life Project study found that only about 12 percent of e-book users 16 and older downloaded a text from the library over the past year.
Nearly 20 percent of the 3,000 respondents said the device they owned could not receive a given title, and more than half — 56 percent — said the library did not have the book they were looking for. About 60 percent of those 16 and older didn't know whether their libraries had e-books.
Lack of awareness isn't an issue for the Erie system, Stewart said.
Patrons have been clamoring for digital offerings since the library started its collection in 2009, Stewart said. And circulation is steadily rising: from 1,384 digital downloads in July 2011 to 2,862 in July 2012 — an increase of 107 percent.
Print circulation for the same period, meanwhile, is down 3 percent at Blasco — though it is up at other branches.
The library is trying to keep up with demand by investing in its digital collection, which now includes 1,519 book titles and a total of 3,358 digital titles, including books, audio books, music and videos. The library budgeted $32,500 in 2012 to expand that selection.
The library tries to buy enough digital copies to keep up with demand, but patrons still might have to wait for some titles, particularly best-sellers.
"It's just like a (printed) book in that regard," Stewart said.
Technology did pose a problem for some e-book users when the library first started offering e-books: Users who owned a Kindle, Amazon's popular e-reader, had to buy the books directly from Amazon. Amazon and the company the library leases its e-collection from, OverDrive, have since reached an agreement allowing downloads to Kindles, Stewart said.
Today, the local system supports more than 30 different e-book devices, as well as a variety of audio devices.
And the classes the library is offering help patrons navigate that new world, Stewart said.
"E-books aren't going to go away," Stewart said. "We have two choices. We can continue to learn and offer these things, or we lose people. We're about information. It doesn't matter how people want to access that information, it's our job to provide it."
Dave Daniels, a 65-year-old Millcreek resident, was among the people who crowded into the recent training session with his Pandigital Novel e-reader. When he and his wife travel to Florida every winter, they have to pay a hefty fee to check out books because they aren't residents, he said.
The digital download system allows him to quickly connect to the library here at home.
"I think it's great they recognize that more and more people are trying to utilize it," Daniels said. "The more (interest) they get, the more they're going to do something with it. It's a win-win for everybody."
Pulford said she's much more likely to download digital works from the library after taking the class.
"Especially for people who don't drive or are confined to their home for various reasons, this is an absolute godsend, to be able to access your public library from your home."