Library-ing from Home

Amanda Gilmore

    Libraries have always been the door to a world of information and entertainment – a place where anyone, regardless of gender, race, income level or religion, has free access to knowledge. That’s a powerful thing.
    This powerful community staple, like everything else in the age of super-fast, ever-changing technology, is constantly adapting and evolving to offer its many products and services using the manner which its consumers demand.
     “The library is still an equalizer. We help people get what they need when they need it. It’s just how we do it that’s changed,” said Debbie Cosper, Boyd County Public Library (BCPL) director. “People are reading just as much as ever.”
    Her counterparts down the river and across it agree.
    “Circulation (of electronic materials) increases each month. Convenience and immediate access are the reasons for the increase in electronic access,” said Sharon Haines, director of Greenup County Public Library. “Even us old folks hate to wait.”
    Joe Jenkins, director of the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library in Ironton, Ohio, said while he’s seen growth in ebook usage somewhat level off, “The circulation of other digital resources, such as digitally downloaded audiobooks, movies, television shows, music, magazines and comics, have continued to grow.”
    So, how does one go to the library without actually going to the library? Only two things are required: a library card (which you must go to the library to get) and a computer or mobile device.
    Our local libraries all have huge collections of online databases, which can help you make home improvements, find a job, learn a new hobby or craft, get legal assistance, plan a vacation, research health questions and do genealogical research, among countless other things. New databases are constantly being created and added to the libraries’ collections, and busy library customers have access to all that information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
    Though it may not be appropriate to go to Wal-Mart in your curlers and pajamas, it is totally fine to visit your electronic library that way. In fact, “How to Library in Your Pajamas” is the title of an upcoming BCPL ad campaign.
    “Everything you come to the library to do, you can do online – except for two things,” Cosper said. Those being: Have a face-to-face interaction and check out an item from the “Checkout Your Community,” a collection BCPL started in 2013 to let library card holders explore their community by checking out passes to local attractions, sporting equipment and other cool stuff.
    Want to check out a book? Use Cloud Library, Overdrive, Hoopla, Gale Virtual Reference or Biblioboard.
    Feel like watching a movie? Check out one (or more) through Overdrive, Hoopla or Kanopy.
    In the mood for some music? Freegal Music and Hoopla have you covered.
    Interested in taking a class and learning a new skill or hobby? CreativeBug, Universal Class and Learning Express Library offer those.
    All electronic materials check out for 21 days, just like the physical ones. But instead of having to go to the library to return them, they just disappear off your computer or mobile device.
    The numbers show how popular electronic librarying is: In 2013, BCPL checked out a total of 33,435 items online. That number more than doubled in just five years, to 68,835 in 2018.
    Library collections, both physical and electronic, are managed by teams of staff members. Library patrons can also make requests for items or databases they would like added – and those requests can be made online.
    All the additions to libraries electronic collections also mean changes to the collections inside the buildings themselves. For example, BCPL will be getting rid of 75 percent of its reference collection in the near future, freeing up about 300 square feet of space at the Main Branch in Ashland. In its place will be a MakerSpace, an area where creative people can gather, create, invent, and learn with access to 3D printers, audio and visual equipment, laser cutters and engravers, sewing machines, cameras, and other hardware and software tools that they can use for free to create pretty much anything they can imagine.
    “Our reference collection is not being used. It’s outdated as soon as it’s printed,” Cosper said. “It would be irresponsible of the library to keep all that material – some of it hasn’t been used in two years.”
    While people still ask questions of reference librarians, these days the questions are typically about finding information online – sort of like directory assistance, only nicer. In a time when Google is a verb, reference librarians are experts at finding answers.
    As author and library advocate Neil Gaiman likes to say: “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers; a librarian can bring you back the right one.”