I recently came across an article written for a professional journal by one of my colleagues. It starts by stating the obvious, “People have always lived in a changing world.” No surprises there. But it continues, “However, no age has seen such rapid change as the past half-century and the age in which we now are, the period within our own memory and experience.” And later still, “Many changes in libraries are underway because of new methods of recording knowledge.” The writer continues, “The book has been and still is a marvelously excellent way of packaging thought so that it may be permanently preserved, easily preserved, and conveniently made available to the consumer. But now that other ways of packaging knowledge have been developed it would be foolish and suicidal for libraries not to broaden their programs correspondingly.”
This certainly seems to accurately describe the changing nature of public library work today. There’s only one small problem. This article was written in 1954 by Carl Vitz who served as Library Director from 1946-1955 when the Main Library at 800 Vine Street was being constructed. The new formats he was talking about included slides, films and recordings. Interesting how the challenges faced by libraries more than 50 years ago are still present today. The biggest change we face today is, of course, the eBook.
As the publishing industry and readers make the transition from physical to digital it is crucial that libraries be in the forefront. Unfortunately, some publishers continue to refuse to make their digital content available for libraries to purchase or license. We know you want the books these publishers offer and if we could, we would buy them. Publishers are at least talking with us about our concerns and I feel confident that this problem will be resolved.
Most publishers, however, are allowing libraries to lend their digital content. Our use statistics show how quickly this new format is being adopted by people in our community. Through November digital downloads, both eBooks and music, totaled more than 881,000. In 2010 it was only 67,063. Use of digital content has grown by 1,214% in only two years! In 2010, the number of downloads surpassed the number of items borrowed from our smallest branch library for the first time. This year, downloads will surpass the number of items borrowed from our busiest branch.
In each of the last two years we have surveyed our newest cardholders. Some of the questions we ask directly correlate to digital content. For years, checking out books for themselves has been the primary reason for getting a Library card. The percent of cardholders getting a card for this reason dropped in 2012 to less than 50%. The percent getting a card to download digital content doubled to 20% and the percent that have already downloaded a book increased to 35%. But a significant number, 27%, said they do not own an eReader and do not intend to buy one.
I can understand that sentiment but these cardholders may find their reading choices limited in the future. Publishers are telling us that within four years 80% of what they publish will be in digital format only. In his article, Mr. Vitz goes on to say, “Just as the modern grocer will sell peas, fresh or dried, in the can or frozen, so the modern librarian will wish to satisfy his readers’ quest for knowledge in the form best suited to his needs, be it a printed book, slide, film or recording.” Today’s modern librarian must add digital to the mix of choices available to our readers, while still meeting the high demand for knowledge in many other forms.
In closing his article Mr. Vitz stated “No institution that serves people well need fear for its continued existence, but it is ours to provide such service and to make it known to all.” Your Library is working hard to serve you well and provide knowledge in every form, including digital.