Bookshelves - and Hard Drives
When many people think of libraries, they picture shelves of books, magazines, newspapers and other print materials. They might also remember that the library is a good place to borrow audiovisual materials, including audiobooks, DVDs and music CDs. Relatively fewer people, though, think of libraries as centers for ebooks and other digital resources.
But a recent survey by Library Journal and School Library Journal reveals that the vast majority of the nation's libraries do offer ebooks. Academic libraries are pacesetters when it comes to making ebooks available to patrons - 94% offer titles in this format. These libraries on average have 33,830 ebooks available for lending.
Although they're currently behind academic libraries, public libraries have also embraced ebooks. Across the nation, 72% of public libraries offer ebooks. On average, locations offer 1,529 titles in this digital format. The majority of librarians providing feedback in the Library Jounral survey believed that the popularity of ebooks would only continue to increase, making the order of new titles a priority.
Currently, ebooks make up a relatively small percentage of libraries' collections development. For academic libraries, the mean percentage is 7.2 percent. And ebooks make up only 2.5% of new title acquisitions in public libraries. Those numbers, however, are expected to increase dramatically. In five years, academic libraries are projected to spend 18% of collections funds on ebooks while the format is expected to make up 7.4% of public libraries' purchases of new titles.
Some systems even loan ereaders to patrons, which suggests that ebooks will be a continuing collections development priority for libraries. In public libraries, 7% have made these devices available to patrons with an additional 24% considering the option. Academic libraries are once again ahead of the curve with 11% loaning ereading devices and 26% considering it.
Virtual Information Centers
With the popularity of ebooks on the rise, librarians are responding to meet increased patron demand. But libraries also provide a wide array of other electronic resources. From electronic periodicals (popular and scholarly) to music downloads and online databases to digital newspaper subscriptions, libraries are vital sources of information for the 21st century world in which we live.
The shift from physical print and audiovisual objects to virtual resources is having a large impact on how libraries deliver access to resources. The majority of electronic resources available through libraries can be viewed or downloaded by anyone with an Internet connection and a library card. People who want to read that latest mystery or conduct research often needn't even leave their homes. Some libraries even offer librarian assistance via online chat.
The Demise of Brick-and-Mortar Libraries?
With so many materials and services becoming digitized, will anyone visit brick-and-mortar libraries in the future? Most believe people will continue to patronize libraries in person. While some experts have predicted the demise of books and other print materials, many people remain more comfortable with these resources. Additionally, many resources are simply not yet available in electronic form.
For those who are looking for physical print and audiovisual materials, libraries' electronic resources can still be helpful. Most library catalogs are online so that patrons can search for materials and request that items be held for them at a particular location. Web-based interlibrary loan services can also allow patrons access to materials that their own libraries may not not have.
Physical libraries will exist because of continued demand for print resources, but that's not the only reason to visit. Libraries offer classes, lectures and other presentations and host events designed to bring communities together. Libraries also serve as a place where students can study and get research guidance from librarians who are subject experts. And if it really is only access to digital resources you're after, 82% of public libraries offer wi-fi service that won't cost you a dime.