Reading electronically may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but ebooks are on offer at Pietermaritzburg’s Bessie Head Library.Like many other provincial libraries, the Bessie Head Library offers electronic books to registered users free of charge.The acting head of the KZN Department of Arts and Culture, Mpumelelo Mnguni, said they introduced this system to promote the importance of reading to people of all ages, regardless of where in the province or country they are.He said the department subscribes to an ebook service that offers a wide collection of electronic library books for all library users in the province. Since the inception of the ebook system in 2015, it now has 4 792 registered users of whom 239 are in Pietermaritzburg. “We strive to make all new developments available to the citizens of KwaZulu-Natal to help people access reading material faster and more easily,” said Mnguni.Some of the perks of using the ebook service is that people can borrow books 24 hours a day, seven days a week, anywhere, “even in the comfort of their own beds”, he said.As long as they have data or a WiFi connection, they are able to download and read their book offline.Mnguni said despite the availability of the ebook system, library members have their own preferences. “Some people still prefer to feel and smell the hard copy books and there are people who use the ebooks service who also still feel the need to visit the library to access other services such as free newspapers, Internet access, library materials and the study space available in our libraries. They also like to interact with the library staff and other library users” said Mnguni.Sphamandla Ngubo, who was returning a few books he had borrowed from the library, told The Witness he preferred having both the hard copy book and the ebook at his disposal.“They both have their pros and cons. “Reading a book on your phone is great because we as young people are always glued to our phones. It makes the books more accessible and it encourages us to read more. But it can also be distracting trying to focus on a book with notifications and messages also coming through,” said Ngubo.Cedric Mbala said he preferred the hard copy as there are fewer distractions from your phone and people around you.Anusha Govender, who has been a member at the Bessie Head Library since the 1980s, said she was already registered on the library’s ebook system and thought it was “marvellous” that the library offered them both options for free. “I love the hard copy book as you get to feel the texture and I feel more connected to the author compared to an ebook.“The ebooks are great too though because you get to have it with you wherever you go. Be it overseas or the airport, it is there with you in your pocket,” she said.The ebook service currently has 1 716 ebooks with a lot more available as hard copies on library shelves. To be able to access the ebooks on the library system, you need to be a member of any public library and can then register as an ebook reader. Membership to the service is free. Each member can borrow up to three books at a time for a period of two weeks. Mnguni said parents can also restrict the content available to their children. After the two-week lending period, the title will be removed unless you have renewed it for a further period.