Into the digital world

Red Deer Public Library bookworms will soon be able to have a choice — paper or computer screen.

Red Deer Public Library bookworms will soon be able to have a choice — paper or computer screen.

In March, e-books will become available through OverDrive digital media service on the library’s website — The cost will be covered by the annual $10 library membership.

“We sometimes refer to the website as the third branch because we have a lot of online services that we didn’t have in the past,” said library director Dean Frey.

The library’s second branch, the G.H. Dawe Community Centre Library, has just undergone a $4-million upgrade. That included seeing more than 3,200 square feet added, bringing the total to 10,760 square feet. There’s also a new large lounge area with a fireplace, directly next to the windows, modern lighting, and a brightly-coloured children’s area. The Dawe library also has its own building entrance for the first time.

“People for a long time have prophesied that libraries would go away. But they’re more popular than ever. That’s because we’ve adapted,” said Frey.

OverDrive is a service libraries use to allow people to electronically borrow books for a limited amount of time, like regular library books. Adult, teen and children’s e-books will be available.

“It’s a service so many people have asked us about. We’ll start and see how popular it is,” Frey said.

“We’ll start with a small collection and build it from there. It will be in the hundreds at first and then in the thousands.”

E-book readers, like Kobo or Sony, will not be provided by the library. People will be able to download the book onto their computer or e-book readers. However, OverDrive is not compatible with Kindle.

Despite the popularity of the library’s website, traditional book circulation is expected to hold steady, he said.

“There’s something about that experience. A lot of people still like a paper book, especially those of us who spend all day on a computer terminal.”

It will take some time before electronic versions, like children’s picture books, overtake paper and ink, he said.

Library marketing assistant Janet Sheline said it’s easy to get totally absorbed while turning pages.

“I think people like the control. If you’re done, you just shut it. You don’t have to close all the windows and turn the computer off,” Sheline said.

“And it’s easy to be distracted on a computer. You’re reading away and someone sends you a message.”

But books aren’t the only items Red Deer library users check out.

Total combined circulation at the downtown and Dawe branches from January to November grew 5.7 per cent over the same period in 2009. People borrowed 722,729 items, including books, magazines, DVDs, music and CDs, and audio books this year.

Frey said that as more and more people borrow the library’s DVDs and CDs, the collections and their popularity grows.

“They come to the library, take a bunch out, and we see that and buy a bunch more. Then more people come because our collection is so good.”

New programs like the Time of Your Life speaker series, and many old favourites like Pre-School Storytime, are bringing people through the doors.

Teens have surprised the staff with the popularity of the Mezz.

“When we built the Mezz for teens, we just assumed it would all be about the media, DVDs, CDs, streaming video — it turns out it’s novels and graphic novels,” said Frey about the space for teens with computers, books and a place to hang out or study.

Frey said website services will continue to play a big role in the library’s future. Website visits climbed two per cent in 2010 as of November.

“Probably the most used service is NewsPaper Direct, which is an amazing service. It’s got newspapers from around the world. These are today’s issues,” Frey said as he scanned the front pages of newspapers on the website on his office computer.

Users can access audio books through Naxos Spoken Word Library, ChiltonLibrary for do-it-yourself auto repairs, recordings from the Classical Music Library, dictionaries, encyclopedias, foreign language instruction, and other data bases.

Website data base inquiries climbed 19.6 per cent so far in 2010.

People can already renew books, place holds, browse, find out about new arrivals, and check their account on the website. Soon they’ll be able to sign up or renew their memberships online.

“The old library model is you sit behind a desk and you wait for people to come up to you. We’re much more proactive now. As we move ahead, our focus is as much on people as it is technology,” Frey said.

Calls and visits to reference staff at the library also increased 9.6 per cent as of November over 2009.

“There’s a lot of stuff out there on the web that is basically an advertisement so media literacy becomes a part of our role as well.”

Frey said people have a need for information that goes beyond what is available for free on the Internet and staff take their role seriously, whether it’s helping students doing homework research, citizens looking for a particular fact, or guiding people searching the Internet.

“Help, interpretation, navigation — these are all things we take pretty seriously.”

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