Libraries Respond to the Way Technology Changes the Way We Read

Posted on 12 March 2011

web SCLS at JJML_7706

By Kathryn G. Menu

As the Coordinator of Technology and Media at John Jermain Memorial Library, Eric Cohen has had to embrace a number of new technologies that change the way people, and the library, share information, finding the advent of e-books — used on e-readers like the Kindle — a technology more and more patrons of JJML are using in their daily life.

“It will make library services different, and in a way, more easily accessible,” said Cohen.

On Friday, JJML staff, and staff members from the Montauk and Amagansett libraries met with Kristin Minschke of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System for a tutorial on how to operate different kinds of e-readers.

“It fits into our mission of providing information services to the community, and this is the way more and more people are accessing information,” said JJML director Catherine Creedon.

While the library will remain committed to print, with growing demand for e-books, and even e-readers, for its patrons, JJML staff must have knowledge of each new device in order to best serve its constituency, said Creedon.

In December, Creedon said the library circulated the same number of electronic downloads from its website as it did non-fiction titles — a first in its history.

While non-fiction titles gained a little edge over digital downloads in January, Creedon said she expects to see continued growth in the digital sector, even while print materials remain the most heavily used once children’s books and fiction titles are factored into the equation.

As the library’s technology coordinator, Cohen said he subscribes to online technology forums and is also a member of the Technology Information Forum, which connects all technology coordinators within the SCLS in order for them to stay up to date with new technologies the library can use to better services.

“We are not just here to preserve old books, we are here to provide information,” said Cohen. “We love books and there will always be people who love books, but people often get their information where they can find it the most easily and we need to remain relevant.”

Along with the excitement found in developing new programming, said Creedon, there are a number of challenges libraries will face in trying to harness these technologies, as publishers and e-reader manufacturers alike are still trying to figure out how public libraries fit into the equation.

Creedon said Amazon Kindle e-readers are not compatible with the downloadable material on JJML’s website, which connects to — the Suffolk Cooperative Library Systems online portal offering free e-book downloads for participating Suffolk County libraries.

Kindle users can only purchase e-books through Amazon, although Project Gutenberg offers free digital downloads of content no longer protected under copyright laws.

In late February, publisher HarperCollins announced it would limit the number of library digital check-outs through each e-book purchased in its catalog to 26, meaning libraries will need to buy several copies of its more popular titles to satisfy demand.

“There are a lot of areas in technology, because it is changing so fast, where the ethics and long-range planning has not yet been figured out,” said Creedon.

For JJML, one challenge will be figuring out its digital budget for the next fiscal year, keeping in mind the still shaky economy and a proposed two-percent property tax cap on the state level.

“I have to be mindful that suddenly we do have a new technology where some vendors are limiting a library’s access to it,” said Creedon, noting traditionally publishers have given libraries a 40 to 60 percent discount on print materials, but that this new model has not yet been figured out.

At the same time, said Creedon, the library must maintain a balance in content for the whole community, with many who still have yet to tap into these new mediums.

Minschke said she views restrictions, like the ones imposed by HarperCollins, as part of the process of working through the details of new technology.

“I view this as the first step in a journey, and it will need to be tweaked, it will need to be reworked, but it is not a bad model,” she said.

Minschke said in theory, after a number of checkouts books often need to be replaced, giving publishers the argument to limit digital checkouts.

“It is such a new field, I think there will be growing pains and it will take awhile for both sides to feel comfortable,” she said. “For me, the fact that we are freeing up more titles is a good thing.”

However, said Cohen, there are still a number of grey areas. JJML hopes in the future to take its Kindle, load it up with a number of e-books purchased through Amazon, and lend it out.

“Is that legal,” he asked. “No one is really sure, but if enough libraries start doing that it could become a question. At the same time, if you buy an e-book for your Kindle and lend it to your neighbor, that seems to be okay. So we hope to try this, but we do so with the understanding that at some point we may have to stop.”

The library has purchased a Kindle, a Nook and a Sony E-Reader for e-book use, now solely for staff development, but eventually Creedon hopes to make these devices available for patrons.

“It’s a very different world from when I first started and we were still purchasing VHS tapes,” said Creedon. “The whole concept of collection development needs to be looked at.”

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