Libraries are jumping onto the digital bandwagon

By Maria Cavaliere



Residents of Massachusetts can rejoice in their libraries going digital, but what exactly does it all mean?

Libraries have been adopting digital catalogs over the last 10 years, building up their collections of e-books, movies, and music.

Overdrive Media Console is a digital distributor of content to 19,474 libraries across the country, 657 of which are in Massachusetts. Those libraries in Massachusetts which are serviced for digital content are done so by the Minuteman Library Network.

Cambridge Public Library has really taken to the new technology. The CPL has adopted a Barnes and Noble Nook program where patrons have the opportunity to use an e-reader for the first time. There are 60 Nooks available which patrons can borrow for four weeks, at all of the CPL’s locations, with books available through the Minuteman Library.

College libraries and e-books

Emerson College has recently started dipping its toes into the e-book world. For the past three years, the college’s Iwasaki Library has been subscribed to Ebrary, a yearly e-book subscription.

Through the Ebrary subscription, the Iwasaki Library has access to 90,000 book titles, though finding a book is not always guaranteed because it can be dropped and added at random, said Robert Fleming, Iwasaki Library director.

The Iwasaki Library is a member of the Fenway Library Consortium, which is consists of 15 area public and college libraries. Through the Consortium, the library is subscribed to EBL, the Ebook Library, a ProQuest company.

Iwasaki Library

“It’s been a fascinating experience for me to watch,” Fleming said of the EBL program.

The difference between using Ebrary and EBL for the library is in the cost. EBL does not have an annual fee. Instead, it charges per book.

EBL loads 80,000 records into the catalog, and the library does not pay unless a student spends more than two minutes in a book. If a student spends more than two minutes, the library pays 10 percent of the list price for the use, said Fleming.

The library has been running an EBL trial from January and up until April 9, there have been 550 unique Emerson users recording 1,399 e-book uses. The visits added up to 834 unique titles hit. “637 of those 834 books have only been used once,” he said. “So [the school] paid an average of $10 for that use.”

Aside from paying for the one-time use of certain books, the library has had to purchase 12 titles. These books have been used more than nine times and must be purchased. These titles are considered ‘triggers,’ and the school has purchased one to two books a week because of the triggering, said Fleming.

In the span of the trial, the library has spent $4,000 just on e-books, said Fleming. That saved the college a total of $22,295 with their subscription to EBL.

People are discovering the e-books provided by the EBL subscription on their own, but their findings can be attributed to the way the library’s catalog system functions. “The way that our catalogue works is there’s a relevancy ranking,” Fleming said. “E-books will come up before the print because they were loaded into the catalog most recently.”

One of the things the library is focused on is discovering how their users feel when a print volume is needed over an e-book, said Fleming.

Iwasaki Library extended their EBL trial subscription for an additional year. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Fleming said. “[But] I don’t believe that the print monograph is going to disappear completely.”

Students of Library Science 

In Boston, Simmons College is the only school that offers a library science program.

Stephanie Reiches, 27, received her master’s degree in library science from Simmons in 2011. Her concentration was archiving.

The Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College offers seven areas of study: Library & Information Science General, GSLIS West Library & Information Science General, Library & Information Science/Archives Concentration, Online Library and Information Science/Archives Concentration, Library & Information Science/School Library Teacher Program, Children’s Literature, and Writing for Children.

The Reiches’ program emphasized taking classes that used EAD, encoded archival description, she said. “Budding technology was starting to be emphasized,” Reiches said. “We were encouraged to take classes beyond introduction to technology classes.”

People are wanting more content to be available online, said Reiches. “People are becoming more dependent on technology,” she said. “Libraries are going to have to keep up, otherwise they’re going to seem backward.”

She had a hard time finding a full-time library position, and instead works in an archive-based job for a Cambridge pharmaceutical company.

Other schools across the country have taken to teaching more technology based courses in library science.

Allison Lyttle, 23, is gearing to receive her master’s degree in library science from Indiana University  in Bloomington.

“Most of my family are librarians,” Lyttle said. “My older sister is a children’s librarian, my grandmother was a high school librarian, my aunt was a reference librarian.” One could say that becoming a librarian is in her blood.

“I was trying to figure out a career that would be more stable than trying to find a symphony job somewhere,” Lyttle said. “I was looking through something from my undergrads’ career center that said ‘you have a major in music, here’s what you can do with it’ and there was a thing that said ‘music librarianship.’ I went ‘Aha that sounds cool. I wonder what it is.’ I looked into it and now I’m [at IU].”

In the program, her courses are split into two categories: core and elective, as she explains in the audio clip below.

Skype interview with Allison Lyttle

Digital catalogs and the use of them, has become an important part of reference courses. “Constructing good queries and actually finding the materials in the search catalog that you want, that’s a big thing because as our teachers keep telling us catalogues are dumb, they’re not Google.” Lyttle said.

Library catalogs are unlike Google, which runs on an algorithm called Pagerank. Google’s algorithm is much smarter at taking what someone inputs and finding exactly what he/she want. With library catalogs, a person needs to be more specific, using connecting terms or excluding terms to find something although the actual cataloging process is the same for both print and e-book.

“Cataloging a paper book and cataloging an e-book right now are the same because there’s one field in MARC (machine-readable cataloging),” she said. “That’s basically the format field where you say this is a paperback, this is a hardcover and then there’s one saying this is an e-book.”

The University of Indiana recently changed its Masters of Library Science program to include more core courses on digital materials. These include new fields in library science, like digital libraries, digital initiatives, and digital humanities.

With the advancement of technology, Lyttle said that she doesn’t know how fast things in library science will change. “Just 10 years ago [library science] was much more focused on the physical manifestation of things,” she said. “As there are so many more electronic resources and as e-books become more popular the library field is changing.”

Lyttle said she is in the field because she really likes helping people, and making it easier for other people to be able to access different things.

“I have friends who are just like ‘so does this mean you’re a scientist?’ Well sort of,” she said, “not a scientist like ‘Oh ,look something is going to explode soon’, a lot more [like] ‘Let me help you check them out kind of thing.’”

The Future of Public Libraries

The popularity of e-books and digital content have not only effected college libraries, and the way in library science is taught, but has also changed the way that public libraries function.

Most public libraries in Massachusetts are part of a consortium, which is usually arranged by geographic area. The Waltham Public Library  has been a member for the last five years of the Minuteman Library Network, which provides libraries with digital content through Overdrive. Overdrive provides audiobooks and e-books, the latter of which has been most popular among patrons, said Laura Bernheim, head reference librarian for the WPL.

“There’s a collection that’s acceptable by everyone who has a Minuteman library card,” Bernheim said. “But then each individual library can add to it. We also have a catalog that’s acceptable to our patrons, residents of Waltham.”

Not all books are available in e-book format though. Some publishers do not make their items available to public libraries and that’s been a big source of concern, said Bernheim.“Let’s say you bought a book at Barnes and Noble and you spent $35 for it. If I bought it for my library I generally get a 30-40 percent discount,” she said. “However, if you buy a book for your Kindle from Amazon for $9.99, if that book was even made available to my library, I would have to pay sometimes like $70 for it.”

The idea behind the high cost of e-books for libraries, is that publishers might lose money, said Bernheim. E-books don’t need replacing, and so a library will only purchase one copy, whereas a print book can be replaced multiple times.

Libraries also are more than just places that house books. People can gather all kinds of help and information there that they would not necessarily find using the Internet. “The thing about the Internet that’s great is there’s so much information out there,” Bernheim said. “This is sort of the library joke. The thing that’s bad about the Internet is there’s so much information out there.”

Books are a big part of what libraries offer, but they’re not the main thing, she said. “One thing that makes us different from a small-town library is we’re an urban library right in the middle of downtown,” Bernheim said. “ [We’re] near a homeless shelter, near a Boys and Girls Club, we have a lot of social service aspects here. A lot of our patrons are on the wrong side of the digital divide meaning that their computer literacy skills are pretty poor. I think that doesn’t seem to be changing in this area, the digital divide has gotten bigger.” The library has been taking steps to help patrons become more computer literate, by offering help with setting up e-book readers, and learning how to view e-books.

Bernheim isn’t afraid of the technological advancements being made. “I don’t think I’m going to lose my job. I know people [who] asked ‘What if you get fired because of the Kindle?’” she said. “[I say] no.”

With the Waltham population currently at 60,000 a little more than half, or between 30 and 40,000 residents, are card-holding library members.

“We’re not here to make a profit. We’re here to provide information for our patrons,” she said. “That’s our ultimate goal.”

About Maria Cavaliere 3 Articles
Maria Cavaliere is a multimedia journalist originally from New York City, who is currently wrapping up her final semester of graduate school in Boston, MA.