If technology and electronics have penetrated our reading habits, how are local libraries facing the glut of gadgets? It may not be the death of the hardbound, but it is having an impact on the way public libraries do business.
"The shift to technology is not taking away from the book budget... that is separate," says Kathy Hellman, director of the Camp Verde Public library. So far, at least.
Most of us had little idea what he was talking about at the time when President Bill Clinton announced that the Internet would change our lives. He recalled those moments in 1996.
"When I took office, only high energy physicists had ever heard of what is called the Worldwide Web.... Now even my cat has its own page."
Clinton's administration pushed the government into the adoption of the World Wide Web to allow the public to share public resources across all its agencies.
In another 10 years, that momentum had pushed into our lives as well. Still downloading your e-reader comes with a lot of conditions.
Yavapai County Free Library District (YCFLD) has changed lives for most readers. The special district was established in 1987 by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors. Today, it includes all of the 20 affiliated public libraries in Yavapai County by means of intergovernmental agreements with incorporated areas and library service agreements with unincorporated areas. In addition, libraries of Yavapai College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and museums are part of the consortium.
The Yavapai District provides supplemental funding for library operations and library materials for all the public libraries. In addition, YCFLD provides professional library services, training, interlibrary loan, book purchasing and processing services for three of the smaller incorporated and 10 of the unincorporated affiliate libraries. As a member of the Yavapai Library Network consortium of public, academic, school and museum libraries, YCFLD facilitates countywide resource sharing of library materials among all member libraries.
The system also supports service centers such as Sedona library's Village of Oak Creek branch. The branch does not hold a physical collection, but is somewhat virtual. It is a distribution and collection point for use of the Sedona library and network collection based on an Internet knowledge. The service center probably would not exist if it were not for the technological advancements that Yavapai libraries have seen.
Cheryl Yeatts, who is manager of the station, is the only employee and operates it with zealous volunteer help. Village users, who tend to range in an older retired demographic, are frequent visitors. Cheryl and volunteers track the number of users; they tend to know them all by name. The tiny center averages 80 to 175 people every day they open. Users often have searched on a home computer for a book, audio book or film and placed it on hold. The volume is retrieved from Sedona or a distant library source with deliveries and pickups made throughout the system four times a week.
Cheryl admits some users still travel the 11 miles into Sedona to browse the book collection. "Most are just happy we are here and often wonder why they didn't visit earlier."
The station has computers and Wi-Fi too, like other library branches where they can search the stacks and order books, check email or do research.
The site is popular with visitors, too, who often use the station to check their email, but Cheryl says, Sedona offers a temporary card for visitors staying for weeks or months at a time. Since they are not Yavapai County taxpayers, they are charged a $50 security deposit with $45 returned when they leave, assuming no outstanding charges.
Most libraries are like the space in Camp Verde, a modular building that Librarian Kathy Hellman hopes will be replaced sometime soon. Camp Verde has been dreaming for years of a permanent structure that has now been designed and is waiting for the financing picture to be completed. After years of site searches, the new building will be constructed on the same property. The Marshal's Office, which also occupied space there, now has its own facility. You can guarantee it will be configured for the changing library environment.
Public libraries are an epic vision with rooms of 'stacks,' sometimes several stories tall. But that vision has changed somewhat. Banks of public use computers now share that landscape. The Cottonwood Public Library now has a large room exclusively devoted to-not hardbound books, but audio-video offerings, new movies and books on tape, or CDs.
Hellman admits the computers at the library are among the popular offerings, along with large-type books and westerns. Camp Verde and other libraries in the county offer basic computer courses, classes on the use of Word writing program. As remarkable as it now seems, some people still are not familiar with computer use.
They also are showing people how to use and download books on those new e-readers or tablets they got for Christmas. Grants from the American Library Association, BTOP-the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and others have helped to support the rapidly growing technology along with the Arizona Library Association.
Each library has its strengths, says Hellman, pointing to the western focus of Camp Verde, compared to, say, the aeronautical collection at Embry-Riddle.
Scott Sanicki is a little worried about the future of libraries in terms of digital downloads. It's not quite there yet and not everyone is playing well together. He echoes what Hellman notes that not all volumes are being distributed in a digital format. So, while your e-reader can hold a summer's worth of reading, not every book is available to take to the beach in that format.
Sanicki, who has a software industry background and worked in the Princeton library system has praise for the Yavapai County consortium network for sharing resources. Today, he works as circulation manager for the Sedona library.
Some publishers are holding out, wanting to maintain their book sales, Sanicki says.
He says the future of donations to libraries also remains unclear. Since digital content is restricted to a single user, there is no way to simply donate your popular books to your local library. He wonders if the iTunes concept may find its way to books, where one downloaded copy can be shared over five machines or devices.
Then there is the matter of "format shift." Libraries purchase books from publishers in several formats, but individuals always buy the format available for their machine: ePub for iPads, Mobi for Kindles and the like.
Sanicki says one solution he has found is an open source software package called Calibre, which allows digital products to be shifted to another format. "The Sedona Westerners' Those Early Days" he was able to convert to several e-book formats because he could call up the organization and get permission. But getting permission for best sellers isn't possible.
Even book checkouts at the new library are going the way of cans of beans at the grocery. The Free Library District, which controls the cataloguing system, has made it a priority to equip books, CDs and music with RFID tags for coding. That means that if a document is not checked out, it will set off an alarm at the exit.
Cottonwood Library Supervisor Mary Griffith says the equipment is impressive.
The system solves two problems. It improves inventory control and improves security. The systems are so good that you merely have to hover a book over the flat bed antenna for it to register the book's information. On check-in, it will show if there are overdue charges. Resource books that may not be checked out are flagged in red on the screen.
The Cottonwood library still has a piece of furniture called a card catalogue, a large box with many drawers. It was once the standard, but today is used for other things. Today that catalogue is in a box marked Dell.
She looks forward to the day the library can afford a wand scanner to use for inventory. Scott has one in Sedona. He says, it can generate a list of all the library's books by simply drawing the wand over the backs of books on a shelf reading all those RFID tags in succession, completing the entire library in three days. That used to be a months-long process in the past.