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Public Libraries Consider Modernizing Their Offerings with Technology

While many patrons still want to read print books, libraries consider adding more e-books, downloadable music and tablets.

by Tyler Miles, The Sentinel, Carlisle, Pa. / July 14, 2015
Libraries try to balance traditional offerings with electronic ones to stay relevant in the Digital Age. Marcus Hansson from Göteborg, Sweden CC 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

TNS — As public libraries across the country adjust to the balancing act between e-readers and bound books, area library directors continue to monitor their standing in the digital world.

Jeffrey Swope, executive director of the Bosler Memorial Library in downtown Carlisle, pondered the e-reader vs. bound book question before answering, "Yes, and no."

"I don't think that the impact for e-books has really dramatically hit public libraries (in this area). There are still so many people out there that still like to handle an actual physical book," Swope said.

A recent Washington Post article said libraries across the country are slashing their print collections in favor of e-books. Fairfax County in Virginia says its print collection has shrunk by more than 300,000 books since 2009, while more than 1 million books have been cut in Washington D.C., in the same time period.

"We're caught between two worlds," Darrell Batson told the Washington Post. He is the director of the Frederick County Public Libraries system in Maryland, where the print collection has fallen 20?percent since 2009. "But libraries have to evolve or die. We're probably the classic example of Darwinism."

Each year, Bosler's circulation is about 500,000, with little change to that number over the past few years, according to Swope.

However, officials with Bosler, along with the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg, have been discussing eventually making e-readers available to patrons through loans, much in the same way that books and other media are available.

And while those talks haven't yet advanced past simple dialogue at this point, Simpson library director Sue Erdman called the prospect "very possible."

"Over the years we have continued to evolve and change from different formats, materials. The electronic version is just another format for us to offer people who have the ability to use that technology," she said. "Many people prefer to use their e-reader and it keeps them reading. That's our ultimate goal."


For those interested in using their e-reader in place of bound books, the Cumberland County Library System offers downloadable media: e-books and e-audio books.

And as CDs continue to become less relevant, public libraries in the county are offering downloadable music to members and are stocking their shelves with Blu-ray discs in place of DVDs, all in an effort to stay current and adapt to the current trends in which people devour media.

One way Swope said he hopes to achieve that at Bosler is by replacing the desktop computers used for searching the card catalog system stationed throughout the library with touch-screen tablets.

He said officials have been discussing "testing one or two in the future."

Offering tablets for in-house use is another option being mulled over, but Tiffany Wivell, library resources coordinator at Bosler, believes that one of the issues with that is finding ways to officially monitor use so "people just can't walk off."

"Amazon did give us a donation of 10 or 12 Kindles, so that will be coming at some point," she said. "We haven't decided yet how were going to use those or what we're going to do about them, but we've talked about it.

"At this point we really haven't seen any changes, most of the places it shows is in the teen department," she added. "I think it's just because they're closer to the technology. That's our collection most affected by it (e-readers)."

Swope added that the library hasn't seen "a drop in the amount of purchasing we're doing or in the circulation and usage."

Susan Howard, who checked out books from Bosler with her son, Noah Howard, Monday afternoon, said that while she has in the past read books on an electronic device, the experience just wasn't the same as with a bound book.

Noah, however, has never read an e-book, and if you take his word for it, it's doubtful he ever will.

"Your brain will rot if you look at the screen too long, then also, your tablet might die," he said. "But these books are there forever unless someone rips out a page or something." 

©2015 The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pa.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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