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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Are Public Libraries still used?

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, May 25, 2014

 

“Oh, do people still use the public library?”

 

If I had a quarter for every time someone has asked me that question, well, I would give them to the library to help funding.

 

Yes, people still use public libraries, and yes, books printed on paper still exist and people read them.

 

The perception that libraries aren’t used anymore started with the development of the Internet and the fact that all information can now be found there.

 

The introduction of eBooks and online technology makes the assumption that all information can now be found online.

 

The reality is that our library system checked out 800,000 items last year, and saw 30,000 downloads of eBooks, a number that is increasing by ten percent each year as our collection grows and people become aware that the library has eBooks available.

 

So, in 2014, how many books published are in eBook format?  Publishers estimate that 80 percent of the “new” published product is now available as an eBook.

 

Some things are available only in paper print, some only as an electronic product; and it is unknown what percentage of older publications have been converted.

 

Recently, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was released by the copyright publisher as an eBook, but “The Catcher in the Rye” remains unavailable.  It was time to replace some of our copies of “Catcher” as some had more than a hundred checkouts and were worn out.

 

eBooks amount to 23 percent of the publishing market today, and number that has grown rapidly since 2009, but appeared to level off in 2013.  Downloadable audiobooks, paperbacks, and children’s books in traditional paper all are continuing to increase in sales.

 

Another survey found that 46 percent of people today will only ready paper published books, and as you can guess, the older the individual, the more likely they responded that they prefer paper.

 

Our eBook collection is a shared system with libraries all across Ohio purchasing new titles to be downloaded.  There are more than 150,000 titles currently available online for downloading into your device for 3 weeks.

 

 

Actually, our eBook collection is much larger than the now-famous Bibliotech in San Antonio, the first library in the U.S. that has no paper books.

 

Yes, libraries have to purchase eBooks, and some publishers aren’t bashful about charging higher costs for popular titles.

 

There are lots of free eBooks out there, and we take advantage when possible, but often the free eBooks are the same as free paper books.  There is a reason they are free.

 

Looking at our own library system, we own over 10,000 books on CD and nearly 20,000 DVDs in our collections.  Our book collections total 198,552 within our 8 locations.

 

All of our collections, as well as the eBooks, are on a shared online system with 90 public library systems around Ohio making nearly 8 million items available for searching and borrowing/downloading.

 

Our library web page contains links to online databases that can be utilized with your library card.

 

Things in public libraries have changed dramatically over the years, but what has changed are the “tools” that we have to use to provide information to the public.

 

In addition, the services that a public library provides have expanded as we have become “the last public service desk” with the closure of local, state, and federal offices and agencies.

 

Andrew Carnegie would recognize his public libraries today, but he might be a bit surprised by what is on the shelves.