FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Having trouble staying motivated during the last few miles of your run'
Fort Jackson's library may have the solution.

Patrons of the Thomas Lee Hall Library can check out Playaways, audiobooks designed like MP3 players so they can be used on the move.

The size of a playing card, the digital audio players are compact enough to put in a pocket. The earphones and batteries are supplied by the library, so there are no more excuses not to "read."

For book lovers like Bonnie Lopez, the electronic gadgets are little-known treasures at Fort Jackson.

"They're amazing," Lopez said. "I take them to the gym and listen to my favorite books as I walk on the treadmill or ride a bike. I can even lift weights because (the Playaways) are hands-free.

"It used to be a struggle for me to exercise, but now I will go a little longer just to get to the end of a chapter."

Lopez said she first discovered the digital audiobooks while searching for entertainment for her mother-in-law, who suffered a stroke and is no longer able to read.

"CDs and cassette tapes were too complex for her to change; they had so many buttons" Lopez said. "But the Playaways are so user-friendly. Because she only has to push a couple of buttons, she is able to operate it so well.

"And if she falls asleep or forgets to shut it off, once the ear phones pull out, it will shut itself off."
Lopez said she enjoys mysteries and detective fiction, while her mother-in-law prefers listening to romance novels.

Initially, Lopez said, when the library first started getting Playaways, the selection was slim. But each week new titles came in, and as the library's collection grew, so too, did Lopez' enthusiasm.

"I've just been amazed by the selection," Lopez said. "Every week I look in the Sunday paper for the best-seller list, and if the library doesn't have them in already, I'll ask the librarians when they will be getting them in. Inevitably, those (Playaways) will be there, even the more obscure books."

Lopez said she also takes advantage of the language-learning collections offered in Playaway format.
She has checked out Playaways to improve her Spanish, and she hopes to use them to learn French, as well.

Lavesha Parker, 16, a senior at Ridgeview High School, said she, too, is amazed by the library's audiobook collection, both in the newer format and on compact discs.

"I'm sure that a lot of kids think that audiobooks are just for adults, but there are a lot of really good books available for younger people," she said.

Parker, who avidly listens to CD audiobooks in her car, said audiobooks, whether on CD or Playaway format, are great tools for teenagers, or anyone going to school.

"For those people who don't necessarily like to read the books they are assigned, the library has classic novels in audiobooks too," Parker said. "So if you have to read something for school, you can always just listen to it."

Lopez, who worked in the education system for 28 years, said though she doesn't think audiobooks should, or would ever, become a substitute for reading, she said Playaways could at least expose children and teenagers to different genres and authors.

"And anything that gets somebody interested in literature," she said, "is a good thing."
Cecilia Hem Lee, the Youth Services librarian, shared those sentiments.

She said by offering Wii game nights, free DVD rental, free access to a wireless Internet network, and 29 computers on site, the library is doing a lot to draw in members of the Millennial Generation, hence promoting reading among them.

Playaways, she said, are just one more tool "to expose young people to things they may not be exposed to otherwise."

For more information about the library's audiobook collection, call 751-5589.