Electronic options change library landscape

Herald Staff Writer

There was a time when Jasper Public Library had only one public-use computer with Internet access.

That was just 12 years ago, when library manager Christine Golden first started working there.

“It was actually in this room,” she said, pointing to a corner shelf in her small office. “You could come in and you could look on the Internet, and there were certain things you weren’t allowed to do because those were things that people were unsure of at that time. Now we’ve got 40 public computers plus wireless service. It’s amazing, the difference.”

Library services have changed a lot, even in just the past two years. In January 2012, all of the Dubois County contractual branches launched the OverDrive service to allow patrons to check out titles to view on their e-readers. The program is now 2 years old, and Golden said patrons flock to the library each year after Christmas to learn the ins and outs of OverDrive on the devices they just received as gifts.

To train the patrons, the staff have had to be trained themselves. After years of checking out books the old-fashioned way, suddenly library assistants must learn entirely new electronic systems for delivering their services.

“It becomes a very big process. With electronics, you feel like you’ve got a handle on every kind of service, and then the email comes that says, ”˜We’re updating the service. We’re changing the way the format works.’ That’s one of our things during our staff meetings that we work on or we work in individual groups. There are a lot of staff members that this is very new for,” Golden said.
“Really surprisingly, it’s been our adult population that has really taken ahold of the electronic services. For the most part, the staff and the patrons have been very willing to work with each other.”

The process turns out to be worth it, and the electronic offerings have become an important supplement to the hard copies of books the library still keeps on the shelves, Dubois Branch Library manager Anita Murphy said.

“It’s not replacing what we offer, but expanding on it,” she said. “We really, really need the library and there will always be a need for books and magazines that people can hold. The electronic databases are fabulous and it allows us to even offer more possibilities than we could if it were all just hard books.”

In May, patrons at all four libraries checked out a total of 652 e-books compared to 503 in May 2012. Year to date as of May, 3,376 electronic books had been checked out. More than 300 audio versions of e-books have been used this year as well.

“It’s one of those services where things have just become more and more popular,” Golden said. “We’re getting a lot of people ... who haven’t used their (library) card in two or three years, and they heard about this service and then they’re coming in to renew their card.”

Also in May, the libraries unveiled a new program, Zinio, for subscribing to and downloading magazines for free. The service has become so popular that the staff members have identified 10 to 15 publications that they will no longer order in hard copy.

“Once you download it, it’s yours to keep forever,” Golden said of Zinio. “Instead of having all three or four branches ordering the same magazine and basically paying triple cost ... we can go get the online version and if (patrons) want to check it out, they can do that.”

Patrons at all four branches have downloaded 497 issues from Zinio since the service began, much more than they would have checked out in hard copy form, Murphy said. Only 12 regular adult magazines left the Dubois library building last month.

Contractual library technology assistant Erin Doyle also redesigned the website for all four branches and presented the new pages to the library board members in December. The website includes links to several databases — including Freegal Music Downloads, World Book Encyclopedia Online and Consumer Reports — and allows people to apply for a library card online.

The Freegal system, which the libraries have used for the past year, was used to download 537 songs last month. Music downloads are up by more than 800 over last year.

Though the transition has been hard work, the staff knows it must keep up with the changing times.

“We’ve been very happy with all of these e-services. It’s just another way to serve our patrons,” Golden said. “You have to keep looking forward at the new databases out there and keep looking for new items to help your patrons.”

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.

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