Advances in technology changes local libraries for the better

June 11, 2013

By Ari Cetron

Pamela Timmons marched into the Issaquah Library on a mission. She hustled over to the hold shelf, where she picked up the books she’d reserved online. After a quick question for a librarian, she popped over to the computer bank where she checked out the books herself. She was back at her car in enough time that she’d been able to park in the front lane reserved for book returns.

Timmons, an Issaquah resident, said technology has made her library trips quick and easy.

Photos by Greg Farrar Above, Kette Ravnsborg, 3, of Snoqualmie, works to master a shape recognition video game on a computer recently at the Issaquah Library. At right, the laser beam of a barcode reader at the Issaquah Library stands ready to scan patrons’ books at a self check out station.

Photos by Greg Farrar
Above, Kette Ravnsborg, 3, of Snoqualmie, works to master a shape recognition video game on a computer recently at the Issaquah Library.

“I use it all the time,” she said. “It’s so fast. It’s unbelievable.”

Basic things like the self-checkout and free Wi-Fi in all library branches are just the beginning for libraries in the King County Library System, which is increasingly finding new ways to use technology.

“We want to provide tools and content that helps people fulfill their goals,” said David Wasserman, virtual library services manager for the library system.

The library provides some tools only in the building, such as computer programs that allow people to do genealogical research.

However, most of the newer options are available from anyplace with an Internet connection. Some don’t even require a library card.

 

Hebrew, Hindi, Turkish, Thai, pirate

Like the idea of a librarian reading age-appropriate stories to your children, but don’t have the time to get to the library? The “Tell Me a Story” service has about 400 YouTube videos of county librarians reading and performing popular children’s stories.

Parents can also access booklists of various topics by age to find books their children might like. While that service may be useful, Wasserman said that asking a few questions of a children’s librarian at a library branch is still probably going to give the best results.

Maybe the children are grown and some international travel is in your plans. The library offers online classes in dozens of different languages from Hebrew to Hindi and Turkish to Thai. You can even learn to talk like a pirate.

Other online resources include help with résumés or information about starting a small business or car repair.

 

E-books anytime you want

One of the technologies Wasserman is most excited about is loaning out e-books.

The library can loan e-books that will work with pretty much any of the various e-readers on the market. Last year, Wasserman said, about 62,000 people borrowed more than 1 million of the e-books and about one-third as many electronic audio books. There are roughly 1 million people who have a library card, so about 6 percent have used the download service, according to Wasserman.

So far, the library system can’t loan out magazines in this fashion, but is working on it, and hopes to be able to soon, Wasserman said.

For the existing services, library cardholders download an app. Then, through a service called Overdrive, log on and with a few taps, check out a book for up to three weeks and start reading. Patron can have as many as 26 e-books checked out at a time. For those who aren’t as tech savvy, there are online tutorials to help explain how to use the service. Most library staff members can also train people in using the technology.

“You can, of course, just walk into a library and get help,” Wasserman said.

Similar to print copies, the library can only loan out as many copies of an e-book as it has. With a popular title, the library might have 20 or so electronic “copies” of the book to loan to patrons. Once they’re all out, cardholders can put themselves on a waiting list, just like with a print book.

One big advantage to the system for e-books is time. When a book is returned, the next person on the list gets an email and can download the book right then, even if they’re in the bathroom at 2 a.m. No trying to squeeze a trip to the library into the schedule in the next couple of days.

 

Other electronic services

The library has a few other clients it uses to administer downloads, including one for electronic audio books. Another is called Axis 360, which is heavy in picture books, like children’s books and cookbooks. Others like Bookflix and Tumblebooks features children’s books, including many that are narrated, and some books that will allow children to read along with the machine.

So far, however, most publishers have been hesitant to allow libraries to loan out e-books, fearing a loss in sales in the long term. Since they’re electronic, they won’t be subject to the wear and tear of a physical product and won’t need to be replaced. Only McMillan and Random House are willing.

Publishers are still working on the business model that will allow them to work with the libraries and not lose money in the process.

“It’s a new variation about something they’ve been doing forever,” Wasserman said.

 

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