Analysis & Evaluation
An Example of Resilience: The Public Library and eBook Workshops
Pratt Institute, LIS 698 Practicum
Dr. Tula Giannini
With a bright smile on her face and a determine look in her eyes, she slowly approaches the information desk with the click of her cane and the shuffle of her feet. “May I help you?’ I asked. “My arthritis is killing me,” she responded while reaching into her bag and pulling out a Kindle electronic reading device or eReader. “My grandkids got me this for Christmas. They say I can get free books from the library but I don’t even know how to turn the darn thing on. Can you show me?” “I most certainly can. We also provide eBooks Workshops if you desire additional information after our quick tutorial,” I responded. “Yeah, you do that honey, I need all the help I can get,” she said.
EBooks or electronic books are not necessarily a new dynamic. The 1971’s Project Gutenberg initiated by Michael Hart is honored with creating the first eBook (Lebert, 2009). However, recently there has been an explosion of eBooks and eReaders sponsorship. Countless companies have flooded the market with their brand of accessing eBooks. While exceptionally good for the consumer with having multiple options, nevertheless it is confusing to constantly reeducate oneself with new hardware and its accompanying software. While many profit off this new demand, others worry. Worry about the role technology plays on the library’s current and future existence, especially as a physical place.
Therefore this paper will address the current fear of technology that seems to threaten the public library existence: eBooks and eReaders. This paper will precede first with a discussion on the fear technology plays on library disappearing as a place. Followed with a rebuttal of how embracing technology and developing programs for eBooks and eReaders can help the library stay relevant in a technology-centered society. Thirdly I will discuss the challenges in implementing an eBook Workshop at the New York Public Library’s 67th Street Branch. Then finally, I will conclude with final thoughts.
The Endangered Species: The Libraries
Les Watson (2010) questions that as technology advances and becomes more accessible, will people venture out to the library if they can retrieve information remotely?
“As the twenty-first century unfolds and we move to a new economy based not on knowledge but on ideas will the Library as a place disappear? In a connected world where users have extensive access to vast amounts of information why would they go to libraries and, more importantly, are there reasons for us to construct new library buildings in the twenty-first century? While the power of technology makes libraries more able to deliver improved services, digitization and remote access may conspire to make them irrelevant as places.” (p.45)
Watson (2010, p.46) believes that the fear of technology is justifiable because “it clearly has the potential to automate many of the operations that comprise the core work of the library.” In addition, the movement in the field to digitize sources for more discovery and access, also the increases interest in the semantic web makes this concern a reality. In fact Watson notes Ray Kurzweil (2005) prediction, that by year 2039 computers will have the ability to converse with humans and even maintain and repair their mechanics. Computers are evolving rapidly and a virtual library replacing a physical library, one could argue, is quite conceivable.
To stay relevant, Watson (2010, p. 51) suggests that libraries redesign themselves “from resources provision to being about people and making a real contribution to the learning landscape.” Watson (2010, p. 51) argues his point by reiterating Daniel Pink’s theory that “education is the only resource that nations have to be competitive in.” Therefore education should be the library’s tool in staying alive by fostering society’s competitive nature. Watson argues, “libraries are an extension of the classroom” (as cited in Freeman, 2005). I they will be transforming into a place that facilitates learning and encourages creativity, resulting in a more competitive and productive society. Some may argue that the library is such a place already, however, one cannot deny it is primarily a repository of materials and collections physically and by definition. However, now the encouragement is to focus to be on people, instead of just the collection.
Education: eBooks Workshops in Public Libraries
As previously argued, as technology advances there is potential that library services such as simply providing resources will not be enough to encourage visitation to the physical location. Especially when information can be accessed remotely or from the Internet. Therefore, implementing the idea of people visiting the library for continuous learning, especially technology classes, I believe will relieve some of the cynicism of technology. I argue that embracing and being proactive towards technology will be fruitful for several reasons that will be discussed shortly. In addition, it will prove the library’s resilience that has been portrayed through its evolution from stone to parchment, from parchment to paper, from paper to CD-ROM and now electronic and whatever formats the future may hold.
Amy Gahran (2012) provided some interesting statistics; “currently 28% of Americans age 18 and older own at least one tablet or an e-book reader. Gahran (2012) also reports “a typical e-book user read 24 books in the past year, compared with the 15 books reported by typical non-e-book users.” Although eBook readers are more likely to read more, it requires some computer and Internet skills to download an eBook, which is reported to be “considerably more complicated than walking into the library and pulling a book off the shelf.” (Gahran, 2012)
Nevertheless, libraries are fully aware of the increase readership amongst eBooks. In fact, Worthington Libraries in Ohio reported a 131 percent higher increase of eBook circulation since 2010 (Kelsey, Knapp, & Richards, 2012). This increase in eBooks circulation creates both opportunities and challenges for the library and its aim to combat extinction. Taking advantage of this demand, several public library institutions such as the Worthington Libraries of Ohio and the New York Public Libraries are providing free instructional classes to not only offer free and accessible eBooks but also assistance in mastering the downloading process. (Bosman; Kelsey et al., 2012) As previously mention the process is not simple and e-reader technology is constantly improving and along with those changes follows new procedures. Therefore as an educational facility the library will be a perfect place to house such events.
Technology classes, such as eBooks and eReader instructional Workshops and programs satisfy several demands. One demand is for the library to stay relevant by providing a place where free learning classes are facilitated. Secondly, it encourages reading and education. Thirdly, it provides a platform for free technology exploration. This is beneficial for businesses, consumers and essentially library patrons. Businesses will able to reach additional potential buyers. Consumers will be able to explore devices free of charge before making a decision to buy which is always good for a competitive market.
The Challenges of Facilitating an eBooks Workshop: NYPL 67th Street Branch
Implementing an eBooks Workshop is not without challenges. Preparing and budgeting for a technology-centered class can be expensive and it also required constant refreshing of computer and Internet skills. Therefore the following will discuss the preparation, marketing, and the execution of the class and finally some feedback from patrons who participated in the class at the NYPL 67th Street Branch.
As experienced at the 67th Street Branch and reported by Kelsey (et al., 2012) libraries experienced a significant increase of questions pertaining to eBooks, which is “in direct correlation to this rise of eBook circulation.” Patrons are excited and intimidated after purchasing a new eReader and trust the Librarians and library staff to provided accurate instructions and guidance. Therefore to maintain reputability, training and constantly refreshing of skills is necessary to stay up to date with the constant influx and improvements in the eBook and eReader market.
To resolve this issue several tools were developed to quickly educate the staff and provide them with confidence to answer questions and some trouble shooting. Those tools included visual heavy instructional guides, PowerPoint presentation and a YouTube video. Before providing hands-on experience with instructional classes, the budget heavily influenced the chosen devices. As mention before there are an array of choices populating the eReader market.
To help with this decision Greenwalt (2012) recommended purchasing three different devices. Those devices fall in the following category. A Built-in device such as the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader is described as a product that allows content to be downloaded directly to the device once the checkout process is completed from an external computer. (Greenwalt, 2012) An App-based device such as Apple’s iPad, and Android tablets requires additional downloading software Greenwalt (2012) reports and these devices require more computer skills. Lastly, the Side-loading, which are devices such as the Barnes and Noble Nook and Kobo e-ink that required additional software to be download on an external computer than transferred to the device. (Greenwalt, 2012) Therefore the Wi-fi Amazon Kindle Touch, Barnes and Nobel Touch were purchased by the NYPL and my personal Apple iPad were used to administer the instructional classes.
Marketing for this class was achieved by utilizing several tools. The NYPL’s website was the primary source for mass advertisement. Secondly, fliers were created, mailed and distributed at neighborhood branches and affiliated institutions. Internally, at the 67th Street branch, fliers were also heavily distributed and patrons who inquired about eBooks and eReaders were encouraged to sign-up for the eBooks Workshop.
Once the eBooks Workshop gain momentum dates and time was allocated to administer the class. The eBook instructional class was facilitated in a computer lab with seating for twelve individuals. A PowerPoint presentation shown with a projector displayed step by step procedures, which was supplement with instructional guide given to each participant to follow along. The class covered the necessary steps from searching for available content, identifying compatible eBooks and its specific devices and the borrowing and returning process all through the NYPL digital library catalog (ebooks.nypl.org).
To record patrons concerns and feedback an optional survey was given to each participates to be filled out after the class. This survey was comprised and managed through surveymonkey.com. A total of fifteen individuals filled out the survey from out of actually twenty-nine participants. Three out of the ten questioned gathered demographical questions such as sex, which were 73.3 female, 26.7% male. Forty percent of the contributors were 60 and older, 26.75 between ages 30-39 and the same percentage for ages 40-49. Seventy-three percent of the sample completed a graduate degree and 20% completed a bachelor’s degree. Participants were asked to critique the class voicing their dislike and demands. Most importantly this survey gathered information pertaining to the usage of the library and its correlation to technology workshops, specifically the eBooks Workshop.
Although the sample for this survey is small it provided some interesting data. One could argue that the data collected supports the idea that embracing technology and providing technology-centered programs, the library will continue to combat and overcome the fear of extinction by such technology. The survey discovered that 73% of the 15 participants visit the library several times a week. Forty-nine percent of the sample discovered this program through branch advertisement and 28% through the NYPL’s website. Ninety-three percent of the sample responded that instructional classes with hand-on experience is the most helpful way to learn new technology, which 20% found to be very helpful, while 66% found to be extremely helpful.
While this paper aims to dispute and settle the fear of technology eradicating the library, there are several issues that this paper touch upon that are equally a factor in the existence of the library. From my observation and vocational experience libraries are constantly influenced by outside factors such as publishing companies and now the technology market. I encourage libraries to become a contributor instead of just a receiver of materials. In addition while the library becomes more technological advance, we most not forget the underprivileged, which I believe will benefit immensely from the free resources and programs libraries provide. Most importantly, I understand change is difficult; we become comfortable and then suddenly that comfort is disturbed. Therefore, I highly recommend libraries to become not just gatekeepers but innovators to continue the legacy and longevity of libraries.
Bosman, J. (2012.). E-Reader Help From New York Public Library – NYTimes.com. Culture and the Arts – ArtsBeat Blog – NYTimes.com. Retrieved April 22, 2012, from http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/e-reader-help-from-new-york- public-library/
E-books spur reading among Americans, survey shows – CNN.com. (2012). CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. Retrieved April 10, 2012, from http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/05/tech/gaming-gadgets/e-reader-survey-pew- gahran/index.html
Greenwalt, R. (2012). Developing an E-Book Strategy. Public Libraries, 51(1), 22-24.
Kelsey, E., Knapp, M., & Richards, M. (2012). A Practical, Public-Service Approach to E-Books. Public Libraries, 51(1), 42-45.
Lebert, M. (2009). A Short History of EBooks. Project Gutenberg.
Watson, L. (2010). The Future of the Library As a Place of Learning: A Personal Perspective. New Review Of Academic Librarianship, 16(1), 45-56. doi:10.1080/13614530903574637 Retrieved April 10, 2012, from http://bing.exp.sis.pitt.edu:8080/webdav/new_documents/49142529.pdf