|Demand pushes libraries to go digital|
|Demand pushes libraries to go digital|
|Written by Rick West/Janesville Messenger|
|Wednesday, 02 November 2011 13:16|
Visitors to Hedberg Public Library in Janesville take advantage of some 100 computers available to the public. The library replaces or updates its computers every four to five years. Rick West/staff photo
JANESVILLE — Since 1731, the year Benjamin Franklin helped establish the nation’s first library in Philadelphia, the mission has remained the same: to provide easy access to resources and services in support of research, teaching and personal learning needs of the community.
Today, with technology like Kindles, Nooks, iPads, iPhones and Android apps, the Arrowhead Library System in southern Wisconsin has shifted into overdrive, literally, to meet that mission.
The seven Arrowhead libraries in Rock County now offer more than 5,000 electronic book — or e-book — titles through the OverDrive digital download center, provided by the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium.
The consortium, with financial support from libraries throughout the state, has vowed to purchase $1 million in e-books, which will be made available to all library patrons.
“I believe this is the first time in the country that a library (consortium) is purchasing that many e-books at one time,” said Lisa Brooks, director of the Milton Public Library.
Brooks said each library is contributing to the $1 million goal, with contribution amounts based on individual library circulation.
“We’re taking money out of our print collection budget and putting in our fair share,” Brooks said. “We’re all seeing statistics go up for e-books checked out.”
E-book checkouts currently represent less than 1 percent of the overall circulation at the Arrowhead system’s largest library, Hedberg Public Library in Janesville.
“We’re not losing circulation, we’re adding new users, a new group of people now using our services,” said Hedberg Director Bryan McCormick.
According to Carol Kuntzelman, Hedberg’s technical services and collection manager, the library’s foundation has donated $5,000 toward the purchase of e-books.
“I have purchased over $1,000 of added copies for popular titles with multiple reserves and will be adding approximately $1,000 a month until the end of the year,” Kuntzelman said.
A committee consisting of representatives from libraries throughout Wisconsin determines the e-book titles available on OverDrive.
“The (consortium) has to pay for each title, so we can only buy as many titles each year that we have money for — just like printed books,” said Mary Buelow, director of reference materials at Hedberg library.
Buelow added that copyright laws present some legal issues, which require securing contracts to make some e-book titles available. Thousands of other e-books are available within the public domain.
While e-books can be checked out and renewed on a similar schedule as printed books, the Arrowhead libraries do not currently have e-readers available for library patrons, due to licensing limitations and cost.
“It’s very frustrating when you don’t have the funds available to give the people what they want,” said Sherry Machones, director of the Edgerton Public Library. “We get requests all the time for e-readers.”
Arrowhead library staff members, however, can help people learn how to download books for Kindle, Nook or iPad.
Today’s technology also has rendered the Dewey Decimal catalog obsolete, and computers have replaced those seemingly endless shelves of similarly bound reference books.
Buelow said most reference materials are no longer being printed, but made available online.
“They’re not free on the Internet — it would be nice if they were — but instead of selling them to us in book form, they sell us databases,” Buelow said.
The databases offer many advantages, most notably more timely information than is possible in printed form.
In the future, people likely will be able to access reference materials via cell phone.
“Texting your reference question and getting a text response is in the near future,” said Michelle Dennis, head of central services at Hedberg library.
Dennis added that a chat format called AskAway already exists to receive reference information from librarians nationwide.
Even that step of going to the librarian to check out a book is no longer necessary at some Arrowhead libraries. The addition of a radio frequency identification program, or RFID, now provides for self-checkout capabilities.
“It’s much more efficient,” Dennis said. “I think a lot of our customers like being self-sufficient … and there’s a little bit more privacy and it’s much quicker.”
The system also makes for a more efficient inventory control for library staff.
“We’re constantly doing inventory … to check our collection to make sure everything is up to date,” McCormick said.
While new technology comes with additional costs, McCormick said it has become necessary to shift how money is spent.
“Instead of personnel to do all these tasks, that money has been shifted over to automation,” he said.
The RFID system also speeds up the process of getting books back on the shelf.
“This organization is really important with the volume we have to deal with on an hourly basis,” Dennis said. “A lot of people really appreciate that they can set their on-hold books from their home (computer), walk in the door, pick up their book and head to self-checkout.
“You can check out a book and you really don’t even have to set foot in the library.”
Despite the growth of e-books and easier library access from home, the number of people using the seven Arrowhead libraries continues to increase.
A driving force may be public access to computers.
“Our numbers for Internet use keep on going up month to month,” Machones said. “We saw a huge boon when GM went out of business and people had to look for new jobs … we saw a huge push assisting people with job searching, resumes and email.”
The economic downturn also is seen as a factor.
“People just cannot afford Internet prices and the library is open pretty much anytime they need to come in and use it,” Machones said.
McCormick said while most people have their own home computers, many use the libraries, which offer higher speed and a larger variety of software programs.
“We have to have the newest technology, because that’s what the people expect,” he said.
While the Hedberg library offers about 100 computers for public use, other smaller libraries in the system offer between 10 and 15 computers. Most libraries try to replace or update their computers every four to five years.
“It’s really hard for libraries, especially when budgets are tight, to replace and update their computers,” Machones said. “But that’s what the people expect.”
Machones added that last month, the Edgerton Library Board approved $13,600 for the purchase of 12 new computers and six new computer monitors to replace a dozen 7-year-old computers at the library.
To help library patrons, the Arrowhead system offers computer classes on a regular basis on a variety of software programs and Internet features.
“Helping people navigate their technology world … that’s the biggest information need out there right now,” Buelow said.
Library science technology will continue to change rapidly, but for now, you can rely on the shelves to be full at your neighborhood library.
“There are still people who love the library as a place … and there are still people who love the feel of a printed book,” Buelow said. “That’s not going to go away anytime soon.”