Libraries Upgrade for the Digital Age ; EVPL Adds New Technology, Programs as Customer Demand for Print Declines

Article excerpt

Patrons continue to stream into Tri-State libraries in large numbers, even as checkouts of printed materials are flat or declining. The Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library system last week unveiled new branding and some new programs, which reflect the impact of the digital age on libraries.

Local libraries of all sizes say that transition has been ongoing for several years and will not stop. They say investing in technology is paramount, but as taxpayer-supported entities, they also cited a need to be judicious and "demand-driven," as EVPL Director Marcia Au put it.

"We are unlikely to spend large dollars on technology that won't somehow add to the customer experience and isn't being demanded by the customer," Au said.

Books in digital form are in high customer demand at libraries throughout the region, although some major publishing houses - including Simon & Schuster and Macmillan - still don't offer titles to libraries in electronic form, frustrating both libraries and customers.

Another publishing giant, HarperCollins, announced last year it would allow a library 26 circulations of an e-book, but after that, the library would be required to buy another printed copy.

The Indiana Library Federation, the Kentucky Library Association and the Illinois Library Association are among 44 co-signers of a statement released this month opposing pricing and licensing terms publishers and distributors have established for selling e-books to libraries.

"In a way, publishers are alienating their customers," said Emily Irby, community relations director for the Henderson County (Ky.) Public Library, which has seen growing circulation of the e- books that are available. "Publishers have always said libraries help sell their books. But with e-books, they are making it very difficult."

Evansville's public library system has offered e-books since 2005. The system's statistics for this year show downloads of e- books, audiobooks and music this year are up 94 percent over the same time period last year.

Digital content is fueling the library's growth in total circulation, which is 3 percent above the same period in 2011.

EVPL announced this week its booster organization purchased 20 e- reading devices that will be made available to customers on three- week loans.

Some smaller libraries in the region have not yet waded into the e-book universe.

Boonville-Warrick County Public Library Director Lois Aigner said her customers still like traditional books, and she also noted some major titles still aren't available to libraries because of the publishers' stance.

"We are still investigating our best options (on e-books)," Aigner said. ".. We buy several copies of a best-seller; with the e- books it's another cost. We have to be cautious of how we allocate that money. We're slow jumping on the bandwagon on this, but we want to make the best choice for the amount of money we have to spend."

Boonville's main library branch also has replaced its roof this year - "a necessity," Aigner said - at a cost of $500,000.

"We're planning on it (offering e-books)," Aigner said. "But it's a wide-open market, and I feel there will be a lot of changes in the next six months with a lot of companies jumping on board and creating new products."

Local libraries of all sizes cited a high public demand for Internet use. For Boonville's system, which has three branches, Aigner said keeping computers fast and functional is a major expense.

"More demands are being made on libraries," Aigner said. …

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