HUDSON -- We live in a world where a bookmobile carrying no books tours the country to promote how you can borrow them from your public library without leaving your house.
Those books you're borrowing aren't really books - not the kind you can hold in your hand anyway - but their digital counterparts, ones you access in the cloud that is not really a cloud, just a way to describe that spot in cyberspace where you can connect with a digital menu that includes books to check out for use on an iPad, Kindle, Nook or laptop computer (if you're really old-fashioned).
How soon will it be until we leave clothbound books in the dust? Someday most of them will go the way of the "ka-chunk" of those old checkout machines, the sound signaling that for a few weeks I was the owner of a stack of books about rockets, dinosaurs and teenage detectives.
Now all kids need is an Internet connection, a digital device and a library card, and they can borrow books from their bedroom. That's hardly a bad thing, so pardon my nostalgia about giant halls laced with the scent of aging tomes stacked to the ceiling and pretty women masking their beauty behind thick black glasses and hair tied up in a tight bun.
The "digital bookmobile" that rolled into Alvirne High School on Thursday was a chance for Cleveland, Ohio-based OverDrive to promote the services it offers through New Hampshire libraries and demonstrate how easy it is to download the latest Dan Brown thriller or "Hunger Games" installment.
Katie Yap, who joined the company a month ago as a "digital event specialist," spends her work days traveling the country to set up shop at sites like the school parking lot in Hudson, where staffers from the nearby Rodgers Memorial Library were on hand to talk about the Hudson library's participation in the program. (Check out nh.lib/overdrive.com for a list of participating Granite State libraries.)
"It's 24/7. If your library is closed, you can check out a book from your own home," said Yap, 24, during a tour of the giant RV-style rig. "And there are no late fees. When it expires, it automatically returns itself."
You can check out the ebook again, if no one else is waiting for it, based on how many licenses your library has for that particular title. When you renew it, the system will know where you left off.
Yap, 24, pointed to the flat-screen TV that greets visitors upon entering the bookmobile and offers tips on how to use the system (in case Yap is not around). "Audio Alley" presented a primer about the system's audiobook offerings. It's a big improvement over books on cassette and compact disc because the technology allows you to adjust the playback for slower or faster reading and to bookmark passages. "Gadget Gallery," near the vehicle's exit, displayed the variety of digital devices compatible with the system.
District 14 state Sen. Sharon Carson, who teaches history, government and politics at Nashua Community College, was among the curious who visited the bookmobile Thursday.
"The potential for this type of application is just endless," said Carson, R-Londonderry. "People who might be confined in a nursing home can connect with their local library and download any book that they want. Kids, parents, downloading books - it's just so accessible. ... It would be great if you could find a way to connect to a home television. It's kind of hard to look at a book about art on a little screen."
Carson confessed she still favors holding a paper book in her hands to reading one on an electronic screen, but she is hardly a Luddite about the emerging technology.
"It doesn't matter if you have the actual book or if you're reading it on a Kindle or an iPad. The experience is the same," Carson said. "You're aiming to engage people. We've seen with Harry Potter and that whole series of books and how kids really started reading. How many more people could be engaged if they had a reader that is portable?"
Betsey Martel, children's librarian at the Rodgers Memorial Library, said patrons checked out 70,000 electronic books last year - and that readers usually need to get through that book in their allotted lending time or risk having to get in line again before they can renew it.
"We don't have enough to keep up with the demand," Martel said. "A lot of times you'll find someone is waiting for it."
In that regard, the library is the same as it ever was.
Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or email@example.com.