August 8, 2008

Libraries Joining the Digital Age

Libraries across America have been expanding their selections of digital books, movies, and music so that their patrons can download them rather than check out physical copies. They hope this new approach will bring the community back through their doors.

Library branches in Phoenix have joined together to create a digital library filled with nearly 50,000 videos, music and audiobooks that can be "checked out" online.

According to Tom Gemberling, electronic resource librarian for the Phoenix Public Library, the program has been very popular among those who know about the service.

Recently, Gemberling told nearly 100 senior citizens in a trailer park about the program. 

"They were so excited. They're RVers, so they can go anywhere on the road, find a computer, go into the Phoenix Public Library catalogue, download a book and play it while they drive down the highway," he said.

The program, which is available in thousands of libraries across the U.S., is available to those with a library card, access to the Internet, and downloadable software such as Adobe Digital Editions, or Mobipocket Reader.

From that point, patrons can browse titles, add them to a digital book bag, and download them.  If the title is not available, it is put on hold to be downloaded later.

The item then remains on your computer for the length of the checkout period, then deletes itself, meaning no more of those pesky late fees.

Cleveland based OverDrive Inc, is one of the main distributors to libraries, and has deal with publishers and music labels.

OverDrive's marketing director, David Burleigh says the company has nearly 100,000 titles, and works with about 7,500 libraries.  The company has racked up millions of downloads of its media player.

"We also know we are touching only a small percentage of each library's patrons. Everyone we talk to is like 'Wow, you do that?' It's a like this nice secret, that we of course don't want to be kept secret," says Burleigh.

Though it varies on publisher permission, most titles can be transferred to many mobile devices including Samsung's Blackjack, and Apples iPhone and iPod among many others.

According to Jim McCluskey, collection development assistant for Washington State's Sno-Isle Libraries, people enjoy the flexibility that comes with using the titles on portable devices.

While having titles for download helps libraries keep up with technology, it also carries other advantages, added McCluskey.

"A lot of our libraries are cramped for space.  Material that doesn't take up shelf space and is available 24/7 -- that's really attractive for libraries," he said.