Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Always Connected: How Technology Transformed the Local Library

Photo credit: Jasmine Pinkney

Wonder what the library of the future looks like? There’s one right down the road from you.  ♦ 
It used to be that libraries were known as places that housed a multitude of physical objects: books, magazines, cassettes, videos, encyclopedias, and more. Nowadays patrons can check out everything from before, plus even more physical media and devices, including video games and gaming systems, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, books on tape, tablets, laptops, and recording equipment. And while in the library itself, they can also have access to computers and other equipment available to all for free, which is of particular importance to students and patrons who do not own a personal computer or have internet access. Still, ever since we've moved into the era of technology and settled into this new era of our lives, things have been adjusting to what we, as a society, want to see in the future, and the good old-fashioned library has had to adapt to that future, too.
  Not only have libraries adjusted the paraphernalia they collect and share with their communities—as evidenced by the sheer volume of different forms of media you can now access through them—they’ve also adjusted their online personalities and the ways users can interact with them and their holdings. Gone are the days when you could only access materials by venturing to the physical space during regular business hours; you can now digitally pay fines, renew books and DVDs, request books, and even check out audiobooks and e-books with immediate access through any number of devices. But as digital books have slowly started to take over the literary world, and as our consumption of media has increasingly gone over to a digital or streaming model, one has to consider how this change has altered the nature of the library—is this change a good thing, a bad thing, or simply the way of the future?
   According to Robyn Case, a librarian at Wright Memorial Public Library in Oakwood, Ohio, the transformation of the library through its digital holdings has been nothing but positive. "Plenty of people who can't benefit from the [physical] library use the digital library,” Case says with a smile. “We have a lot of older participants that can't always make their way to the library, [and] they use the digital library to get their books and everyone is happy."
   Case and other librarians at Wright Memorial are very proud of the advancement of having an online database for their library and the accessibility it offers their patrons. And their patrons seem to appreciate the offerings, too: there has been a 20% increase in the digital use of their online library, as well as an increase in the number of audiobook and eBook checkouts, just in the past two years.
   That doesn't mean that personal, physical visits have decreased; they in fact increased by approximately 10,500 patrons in 2016, even though physical copies are becoming less popular for this particular library. Some people, it seems, still like to sit in the library, pick out a book to read, check it out, and take it home the traditional way. And while the number of young adults aged 17-21 has decreased, the number of adults coming in has stayed pretty steady for the past three years. Since kids usually come in with parents, that number has stayed pretty consistent as well. During the school year, Wright Memorial also offers after-school programs which attract a lot of attention, considering one of the two elementary schools in the area is just a playground away from the building. That program from 2015 to 2016 has actually doubled the number of participants it has in the system.
   Libraries aren't being taken down by Amazon or anyone else on the internet that sells digital books and media. Libraries, including Wright Memorial, are doing just fine with their library visits, even as they expand their holdings to cater to those patrons who enjoy the accessibility of reading or listening to their new book within minutes, without leaving the comfort of their home.
  • About the Author
    Jasmine Pinkney is a sophomore Professional and Creative Writing double major from Dayton, Ohio. She enjoys writing random lyrics and poems in her journal, swimming and hanging out with her swim team, and babysitting her three toddler nephews.

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