Sunday, January 31, 2010

E-readers and the Future of Books

Let me begin by saying a few things. First I don’t think books are going away anytime soon. The technology works too well. Books are portable, durable and easy to use. So there is no need to fear that they will be leaving the shelves of your local library anytime soon.

Having said that I also have to add the except for my text books when I was in library school I used electronic texts almost exclusively. Not only was it easier to access what I was looking for but I also had so much more information available to me in that format. The material, especially when accompanied with links, was much more dynamic and fluid then a book could ever hope to be. And when put on a flash-drive exceptionally portable.

So do the e-readers have a place: yes. But it is more a case of what is it that you are looking for and how do you want to use the information that you seek. There are a lot of crossover applications. The e-readers can be used for information gathering, communications and reading for entertainment, to name a few applications. It is possible for a book to do some but not all of these things and, here is the real crux, a book can only do some of these things one application at a time. Does that mean books are obsolete? No, of course not; but it does mean that books may only have a limited application. However books certainly do that one application very, very well.

Would I purchase an e-reader? You bet, once I can afford one. It is not that I’m never going to check out a book again or that I’ll never pick up another magazine. Although to paraphrase Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, I can gather all the news I want from the internet now. I see the e-readers as an extension of what it is I’m looking for. Another platform that provides me with access for what I’m looking for. E-readers also provide me with different options of how I might want to access and use that information. I’m not yet ready to throw away any of my books but I am ready to make space on my bookshelf for an e-reader.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Web-based tecnologies used by libraries

While reviewing the library’s website hit statistics with our Director the other day I was struck by how many people come to the site. Now compared to huge web-based companies or multi-national corporations are numbers are insignificant. But let’s not compare apples to oranges, for a small rural library in a mountain community our numbers are striking. During the first part of January of this year alone the SLFL was averaging 66 visits a day! Not hits, but visits. People came and searched out information.

Libraries have been turning to the web for a while now and the SLFL is no different. For libraries the real question is rapidly becoming how do they want to use web-based technology; and having a very robust website allows for a number of different things.

Everyone now understands that a website can be used as an informational tool. The site provides basic information such as hours and contact information. In addition, the website can be used for marketing of programs and services, which is the next step beyond simple information. Moving along that continuum a website can also be used to provide services, such as renewals and request. Some libraries also included multi-media technologies such as pod and vod casts. These are all basic web-based technologies used by many libraries. They are also all basic one-way services.

But there is another way to view and use web based technologies. It is also possible for libraries to step even further into web based tools by providing interactive components such as wikis and blogs were the visitor becomes engaged with the information being provided by the library and responds directly to that information. The response can be real time, such as using mebo for reference questions or it can be delayed such as in the example given above with the use of wikis or comments to blogs.

The important component to keep in mind is that power of the tool is being used to move beyond the physical limits of having to actually stand at the main circulation desk. You are also not limited to just audio exchanges as with a phone. With an internet connection you can now engage both the librarian and the services s/he can provide from any location. And for the small, relatively isolated community that we serve the use of these tools makes the library more accessible, more responsive and more engaging to our far-flung patrons.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Edward Cullen vs Natty Bumppo

When I was in library school one of the books we discussed for young adults was Twilight. In the course of the discussion it came out that many of the individuals in the class felt that Edward was a terrible role model for how a boy friend should behave. He does a number of inappropriate things such as: driving too fast, sneaking into Bella's bedroom at night and is not always truthful. My thought at the time was "Well he's a vampire and so what do you expect? By his very nature he's going to do what would be considered bad behaviors by human standards."
Thinking about this lead me to think about other arch-typical male characters in other series and I wondered about Natty Bumppo, James Coopers protagonist in the Deerslayer series. I wondered if people had the same type of discussions when that series was first published? Did young girls sit around the parlor, taking tea, and say things like "Oh, that Natty is so dreamy." Did they tell the young men who came courting "Why can't you be more like the Pathfinder?" Did adults wonder about the appropriateness of the Pathfinder as a role model for their sons? Or did they view Natty and say "Well yes, he is brave and loyal, but really all he does is run around in the woods with his Indian friends and I don't really think he would be a wise match for my daughter."
Both are fictional characters but both can provide insight into what is considered popular fiction of the day. And providing that type of reading material is important for any library's patrons. And in some ways Natty & Edward are very similar: they both disregard contemporary social standards, they both make their own way in a hostile environment, they are both guided by their interpretation of ancient standards that they have learned from an elder and they both have an object of affection who is portrayed as being helpless in the setting she finds herself. And all of those components are often to be found in a good book. I would add another thought though: People were still reading Deerslayer a hundred years after it was first published, I wonder if the same will be said about the Twilight series at the turn of then next century?

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Life's a freeway, but it ain't free"

So, sometimes I’ve asked “If the name of the library is the Saranac Lake Free Library, why do I have to pay fines?”

Well, to quote the Greencards (a new-grass bluegrass group) “life’s a freeway, but it ain’t free”.

When you receive a library card from the SLFL or borrow a book or other item from the library you have agreed to a number of things: first, that you’ll return the item in the same condition that you borrowed it and second, that you will return it on the agreed upon date. That is the date stamped. It is possible to renew some items. The most notable exceptions are the 7-Day books and the DVDs or VHS tapes. All of these items are in high demand and others are usually waiting to read or view them. So they cannot be renewed. But almost everything else can be renewed. You can do this by visiting our website, (you’ll need your library card number and PIN number), calling the library at 891-4190, or by bringing the item into the library. There are a limited number of times you can renew books, audio books or magazines.

So why do we have fines? The fines are a reminder. They also place a value on the item and on the service that allows us all to borrow things from the library. And as I often tell our patrons as they settle up: “You are in excellent company”. The “Free” in SLFL refers to the fact that we do not charge admission or user fees when you borrow SLFL items or
use some of our services. You can read the books and magazines without having to purchase them. You can view the movies without having to buy a ticket. You can listen to the audio books without having to pay anything. We have a number of computers that are connected to the internet and are available to the public without a charge. And we can help with reference questions to answer or locate specific information without a cost. These items and services are all free to the public. They do have a value. And they do have a cost. But the SLFL does not pass that direct cost on to our patrons at the point of service. We do it for free.

See you at the library.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Murder, mystery and mayhem in Northwestern Alaska

Twice this past week I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish a book; both of which were written by Stan Jones. The first was White Sky, Black Ice and the second was one of our newest arrivals here at the SLFL: Village of the Ghost Bears: A Nathan Active Mystery. In it we meet Alaskan State Trooper Nathan Active who in a stroke of bureaucratic irony is stationed in his birth village of Chukchi, a remote Input village in rugged northwestern Alaska which happens to be just about as far from the bright lights of Anchorage has he could have been sent.
There are enough interesting folks living in the middle of nowhere that things are never boring for Trooper Active. And once you throw in political intrigue, murder, bush pilots, hunters, guides, emotional baggae and the complicated family trees and responsibilities of the region, you have the recipe for a good read. I also liked that all of the folks living in Chuckchi seemed to get around by either snow machine or four wheel ATV depending on the season.
To find the book just look for it with the other new arrivals on the 7 Day Book shelves. Or if you can't get into the library right away come to our web site and make a request.

And here is Mr. Jones official website: