Thinking Outside the Book; Reinventing Our Library System

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Thinking Outside the Book; Reinventing Our Library System

Up until about a month ago, it had probably been 20 years since I last used a library card. I'm not sure if I can really tell you why. I think it mostly has to do with my personality.

I've always been a technology fiend. It's not that I'm just a computer dork that has no interest in books or reading; even though I am a computer dork, I still love books. In fact, my profession as a software engineer makes lots of reading a necessity. I spend at least a full day each week reading articles, books, blogs, and technical publications simply trying to keep up with changes, trends, and new technology in order to be able to do my job effectively.

Superficially I'm sure it appears to most that I'm just into electronics and technology. But my real addiction is innovation.

Computers and the internet have been our biggest sources of innovation for decades, and that's what has drawn me to those technologies. So the reason I've probably avoided the library all these years is that they've always seemed outdated to me. While I was using Google, they were still using microfiche. While I was downloading music they were lending audio cassettes. When I got a DVD player they were still building their VHS catalog.

It makes sense when you think about it. Public funding means pleasing the largest number of people you can all the time. Being an early adopter of technology, by definition, means moving faster than the majority. After all, if you were a library director, why would you convert your entire catalog of audio cassettes to CD's if only 10% of the population owns a CD player?

But an amazing change has come to pass in the technology industry over the past 10 years or so. While Moore's Law continues to prove itself to be overwhelmingly accurate, we've reached a point at which what we had 18 months earlier can be indecipherable from what we have now for the average consumer. There are a number of reasons for this (one of which I'll describe in a moment), but the bottom line is that the computer that used to be rendered obsolete every three years might last you five or even seven years now.

The underlying point I'm trying to make is that for those of you who may think like me, it's time to take a trip back to your local library. The general population has caught up with the technophiles, and our libraries have responded in kind. Our libraries now offer everything from digital copies of books and DRM-free MP3's that you can download legally, to DVD's and Blu-Ray's of both current and classic feature films, TV shows, documentaries, and more.

As Bayport-Blue Point Library Director Mike Firestone puts it, "Libraries provide people who have technology and desire information or entertainment with a way to spread the cost of providing content for that technology over a wider audience. They also help to bridge the societal gap between those individuals and ones who cannot afford to own that technology in the first place."

When asked what services the library offers that can be used by those with access to technology at home, Firestone told us, "Most libraries offer 'text-a-librarian' or 'email-a-librarian' services. Libraries also offer downloadable media; books, music, movies to mobile devices, online language skills platforms, online databases, basic law forms, museum passes, and local historical information."

One of the biggest enhancements technology has brought to our library system is in the ability for our libraries to share resources. The result of this is that libraries are able to offer more services and materials at a lower cost to the library itself. The primary organization in Suffolk County that facilitates this cooperation is the Suffolk Cooperative Library System.

Describing how the SCLS helps their member libraries, Administrator for Member Services Diane Eidelman says, "SCLS offers a variety of support services to its member libraries. Those services include daily delivery to every library so that they can easily share resources with each other, the countywide library electronic services on our digital library branch, cooperative purchasing of office equipment and supplies to save libraries money, continuing education for library staff, Directors, and Library Trustees, and the expertise of experienced professionals available for consultation."

What does this mean for you? The one that stands out most to me is the sharing of resources. Your local library doesn't have the book you want? As long as it exists somewhere in the library system you can submit a request, have it delivered direct to your local library, and be notified when it becomes available. The same goes for all of the items available at the library. "Both books and DVDs are very popular and shared in large quantities," says Eidelman.

The most common thread amongst those involved in the library community seems to always circle back to encouraging residents to just utilize the services the library has to offer. When asked what an individual could do to support their local library, Firestone says, "Using your library and everything it has to offer is support enough!" Eidelman adds, "The best way to support a public library is to make use of it. Find out what your library is doing that interests you, get to know the library staff, and use the resources the library offers. On voting day, remember how you have used the library and vote on its budget."

As I increase my own knowledge of what our libraries have to offer, I asked both what they felt were the most under-utilized services in the library. "Libraries often wish patrons would take greater advantage of the library staff's expertise and experience in searching for and sorting through information in all forms and formats," said Eidelman.

Firestone further commented, "Information is something people tend to forget they can get from the library. So many people believe everything they read on the internet is vetted and by just using Google they no longer need the resources their library has to offer to find information. Although Google and other search engines have made it incredibly easy to seek information, that information is not always accurate."

But beyond the information that's available in physical and digital format, perhaps some of the greatest value provided by the library system lies in the programs they make available to the public. While programs vary from library to library at their discretion, some examples include yoga instruction, computer courses, cooking demonstrations, book clubs, and writing workshops for adults. Children's programs are broken up by age group and range from photography clubs to group story time and so many others that are just too numerous to mention here.

So what are you waiting for? Get out to your library and renew that library card and start taking advantage of everything they have to offer!

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