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Libraries refocus as technology changes how people read

North Liberty library seen as a leader in advancements

By Libby Collins
NORTH LIBERTY– No longer limited to ink and paper, Iowa’s public libraries are spending increasing amounts of money on new technologies, such as eBooks and iPads. The number of computers in these libraries increased 76 percent from 2003 and 2012.
But it has come at a cost.
Some items– notably magazines, newspapers, compact discs and reference materials such as encyclopedias– no longer are being purchased. Library operators are expanding the percentage of their budgets spent on technology. And staff training to understand expensive technology and maintaining it is a challenge, particularly at a time when budgets are razor-thin, an IowaWatch investigation revealed.
The North Liberty Community Library is wrapping up an expansion that tripled the library’s size but also gave its leaders a chance to make some upgrades. “In anticipation of the move, we got rid of musical CDs,” Director Dee Crowner said. “We’re also switching out the Dewey Decimal system for new subject-based catalogues.”
The library is moving to a subject-based system that allows readers to browse by topic instead of the numbers-based system that has been used for 130 years. The new system was adopted from the book industry and coined BISAC, for Book Industry Standards and Communications. It appeared for the first time in a public library in Arizona in 2007.
The library is spending more of its budget on eBooks and audiobooks, as well as a small collection of iPads that will be available for patrons to check out and use within the library. Crowner said the budget for downloadable collections this fiscal year is $14,000, up $11,000 from fiscal year 2005, when only $3,000 was allotted for downloadable items.
North Liberty’s library has also hosted several events teaching patrons how to check out and download eBooks onto their eReader.
Technology services librarian Janet Lubben works one-on-one with patrons and library staff on technological questions.
“My job is to figure out how I can help people, how I can explain it to them,” Lubben said. “So the learning curve is sometimes harsh because not every library has someone in the house where they can just go to them and say, ‘we need help with this.’”
Lubben said keeping an in-house technology services librarian is the most cost-effective way for libraries to maintain technology. Libraries without an in-house technology expertise can spend approximately $5,000 per year on technology consultants. With Lubben on board, the North Liberty library budget calls for spending $2,000 for technology consultants.
One of Lubben’s biggest struggles in her 11 years at the library was coping with the many variations of eReaders, varying from Amazon’s Kindle to Apple’s iPad. “They’re so different,” she said.
Statewide, libraries spent a total of $2.12 million in fiscal 2003– or 17 percent of the collections budget spending– on audio, video and electronic, downloadable collections. Just nine years later in fiscal 2012, they spent $4.38 million, or 32 percent of that same collections budget spending, according to an IowaWatch analysis.
This project was produced by Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism-IowaWatch.org, a non-profit, online news website dedicated to collaborating with Iowa news organizations to produce explanatory and investigative work.