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Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Public Library of 2015

"We can therefore safely speculate that by 2015, and in all probability much sooner, libraries will rise to meet the increasing provider and user-end demands for Internet access to address education and economic needs for their patronage."

Access: This is one of the first terms students of librarianship learn. Free and open access to information has been and continues to be the charge of librarians past, present and future. The degree in fact is named Library and Information Services. Librarians are looked to as stewards of information, and as the rule and law of archiving decrees, it is content and not form that drives the need for information storage. While publications in all forms seem to become easier to obtain for individuals, the ability to sift through confusing and often contradictory information - and indeed the ability to match file format to device and device to access point - is greatly challenged. Frustration mounts for those who find the rapidly changing formats incomprehensible and when even lowering costs for devices assumed to be had by the majority remain beyond the financial means of so many citizens. Technology is advancing exponentially. The economic edge will lie with those who are familiar with this technology, and conversely those who do not have access to technology, the information stored and delivered along it, and the chance to learn it, will become the most financially vulnerable.

The printing press and changes in the epistemological makeup of religions forged the way for a new reading public. In many Christian religions, only pastors and priests were trusted with the word of God. Besides, books were scarce; monks used to teach from texts chained to the lectern ( Freeman, 2009, p.31).

We hope the President [Theodore Roosevelt] will be a restraining influence on the flood of words both in correspondence and in books, but we fear the times are against him. They offer fatal facilities for verbal exuberance. Books today are published in vast numbers, less because authors have anything to say than because printing is easy and cheap and the presses have to be kept at work. ... The stenographer, the typewriter and the printing press are invaluable agents of civilization, but they have their drawbacks. They have inundated us with a plague of words ... (Freeman, 2009, pp. 52-3).

The Internet is not your library and if you thought a ton of books was an overwhelming amount of information, think again. The Internet doesnt contain just a few dozen or hundred relevant sources, no, it contains millions or billions or even more. To make things worse, there is no friendly and intelligent librarian to help you sort through all this information. Its only you and a stupid search engine (MakeUseOf.com, 2010).

Public libraries have long held to the philosophy that information and access to it are things that should be freely open to all. This is a philosophy shared not exclusively by the staff who work in public libraries but in fact by the very founders who originally saw a need for public libraries in their communities. John Cotton Dana, author of the well known A Library Primer and a gentleman as much beloved to librarians as Melvil Dewey, stated, Unfortunately, most citizens who took up the library idea thought of libraries as mere book-collections, housed in buildings designed to ornament a town. They half-unconsciously desired to put up memorials to local culture, and not to establish live institutions that would help promote much needed general intelligence (Cotton Dana, 1920, p. 3).

Today, librarians have no end of fascinating stories about patron questions received at the circulation or reference desk. Live birds are pulled from pockets with a request for the librarian to help identify the species. Play-writes telephone from their home offices wondering if somewhere there is software to help them format their opus and where it might be located. Readers of library blogs post comments inquiring about obituaries and genealogical resources. People cant find what theyre looking for on the computer, but they can find librarians.

And those are just the people with computers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureaus Current Population Survey, in rural Maine alone, of the approximately 323,000 homes surveyed, just over 25% report having no Internet use. Of the respondents who do use Internet in their homes, 21% reported that they were using a dial-up connection (NTIA/US Bureau of the Census, 2007, p. 6). At the same time, again in Maine, state government no longer routinely sends out print versions of tax forms and booklets. While they may be requested with a telephone call, the trend is toward obtaining the forms and accompanying information online. Unemployment claims are no longer provided by walk-in service in Maine. Applicants are encouraged to apply online. Online universities are a growing trend as well. One of the most readily recognized - the University of Phoenix online - reported a Fall 2000 enrollment total of 14, 783 people. By Fall of 2007, that number had increased to 224,880 (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, 2009).

As of this writing, Maine libraries are in a state of positive transition to meet the need of an Internet access-challenged population with a growing government and private sector need for that access. The Maine State Library reports the following: Research by the American Library Association shows that public libraries are the sole source of no-fee access to the Internet for 73% of Americans who have no connectivity at home or work. In 2008 there were only 1,424 public access computers available in public libraries located throughout Maine. Many of those computers in the smaller libraries are from a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant awarded in 2002; some were replaced by a Gates grant in 2008-09. Seventy-five percent of the public libraries responding to a survey in 2010 reported not having enough public access computers to meet current demand. Many also reported that many of the existing public computers were too old to run current software. Over 220 public libraries connect to the Internet in Maine through the Maine School and Library Network. Beginning in July 2010 all these libraries will have at minimum a 10 mbps broadband connection (Maine State Library, 2010).

We can therefore safely speculate that by 2015, and in all probability much sooner, libraries will rise to meet the increasing provider and user-end demands for Internet access to address education and economic needs for their patronage. Much of this will continue to be accomplished by local municipal and philanthropic support and by federal and foundational grants. The technology needs in particular are addressed under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Acts Broadband Opportunities Technology Program (United States Department of Agriculture, 2010).

Currently, Maine libraries are also in the process of actively and meaningfully partnering with the Maine State Department of Labor (MDOL) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to further aid citizens with the Maine Public Library Information Commons Project. This application seeks funding to equip Maine's public libraries to become information commons areas-- to serve as access points to free high speed Internet service and to provide assistance to vulnerable populations both in the use of technology and in finding and using needed information in the areas of employment, civil law, health, government services, small business information, and workforce development.

Public libraries have historically provided a gateway to information. They are perceived as safe places to go for unbiased, friendly, confidential information. As broadband is introduced into rural communities the public library is a logical place to learn to use the new medium -- seeing how social networking works, finding new information sourcesapplying for jobs on-line and trying it out before making an investment for home or business. Bringing together access to technology and access to needed information makes sense. That is the aim of the Maine Public Library Information Commons Project (Maine State Library, 2010).

As libraries become more prominent presences in economic recovery for individual citizens, it is further a reasonable expectation that libraries may pursue additional federal funding under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. Under Title II - Adult Education and Literacy - Sec. 202, the stated Purpose reads as follows: It is the purpose of this title to create a partnership among the Federal Government, States, and localities to provide, on a voluntary basis, adult education and literacy services, in order to

(1) assist adults to become literate and obtain the knowledge

and skills necessary for employment and self-sufficiency;

(2) assist adults who are parents to obtain the educational

skills necessary to become full partners in the educational

development of their children; and

(3) assist adults in the completion of a secondary school education (U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, 1998), pp. 125-6). Sec. 203 (5[F]) defines an Eligible Provider as a library (U.S. DOL/ETA, 1998, p. 126).

Therefore, by 2015, it is likely that libraries roles as technology access centers for economic growth will increase greatly, and the fiscal means to facilitate that are available.

And what of books, the commodity with which libraries are so readily associated? To understand where libraries will be regarding the distribution of books over the next five years, it is essential to follow what is happening in the publishing industry.

According to the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) in conjunction with the Association of American Publishers (AAP), wholesale electronic book sales in 2009 reached approximately $170 million, up from an estimated $5 million in 2002. Second quarter sales alone for 2010 have reached almost $90 million - and those are just wholesale numbers. IDPF states, Retail numbers may be as much as double the above figures due to industry wholesale discounts (IDPF.org, 2010). However, sales for traditional formats of books are still very healthy according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP): Net sales of $23.9 billion were reported for 2009, a 1.8% decrease from 2008. Audio book sales were hit hardest: Audio book sales for 2009 totaled $192 million, down 12.9% on the prior year, CAGR [compound annual growth rate] for this category is still healthy at 4.3%. E-books overtook audiobooks in 2009 with sales reaching $313 million in 2009, up 176.6% (AAP, 2010).

However, Forrester Research asserts that AAP far under-reports the true size of the eBook content market. In fact, Forrester Analyst Sarah Rotman Epps writes, AAP data represents wholesale, not retail, revenue; what the retailer collects from the consumer could be more (or less) than what the retailer pays to the publisher. In addition, AAP data represents only a subset of trade eBook publishers, and it excludes major markets like education, libraries, and professional electronic sales. ... Considering the growth rate of eBook trade sales (up 176% year-to-date), we think its reasonable to project overall eBook revenue will top $500 million in the US in 2010 (Epps, 2010).

Patron requests for eBooks are on the rise. A recent announcement from Maines InfoNet Download Library service sent via email to librarians and other interested parties on Maines library listserv ME-LIBS briefly outlined plans to include eBooks along with audio books as part of the service - due to patron demand. According to early plans, The Overdrive system provides eBooks in formats that work on many but not all readers. The ePub and DRM PDF formats are supported by the Sony eReader, the B+N [Barnes & Noble] Nook, the Borders Kobo and others, as well as on windows PCs and Mac computers. The formats are not supported on Kindles. The format is not currently supported on the iPad, but Overdrive has promised an announcement on this front soon. ...

Sony already has a program in place to help librarians obtain and train on their eReaders and a system by which to lend eBooks with them (Sony, 2010). While Amazon founder Jeff Bezos generally does not release specific sales figures for Kindles, Forrester Research speculates, “B&N [Barnes & Noble] will steal market share from Amazon and Sony. 2009 was a setup year. In 2010, B&N will rack up significant sales of Nooks and eBooks, as some consumers look for an Amazon alternative. Sony will launch its own new devices, and will work on improving the software and book-buying experience. B&N will end up taking market share from both Amazon and Sony, but Amazon will retain its dominant position as market leader” (Epps, 2010).

What librarians can therefore expect to see over the next five years are shifting sands in eBook technology and availability. Formatting compatibility issues, driven largely by publisher digital rights concerns and litigation, will compel librarians to keep up with emerging trends as patron demand for eBooks grows at a faster rate than their functional comfort with the evolving technology that supports those books.

At the same time, a growing trend in the publishing industry is what is knows as vanity publishing, where writers publish their own works through an electronic book sale site such as Amazon. While purchase prices for these eBooks are generally very affordable, the electronic access gap is still too wide for many library patrons to bridge on their own. Kiosks offering print on demand (POD) services are now appearing in a wide variety of locations, including Riverside County (CA) Library System, where a Book Espresso POD machine was purchased under a $100,000 grant from the California State Library. The July 2009 grant has been used to purchase a Book Espresso print-on-demand machine which prints, covers and binds trade paperback quality books from computer files. “Library patrons will now have the option to request titles, have the book printed for free, read it and return it to the library collection, or they may choose to keep the book and pay a printing fee. If the requesting patron is at the Book Espresso location and wants to pay for the book, it can be printed immediately while they wait.

"Growing our collections based upon patron on-demand choices is a new concept for our library system, said Jan Kuebel, Manager of Grace Mellman Library. Rather than relying solely on interlibrary loan, we now have a way to immediately respond to patron requests for materials outside of our current collection.

Available book titles will be obtained from Lightning Source, with over 500,000 titles available, and Google Books, who has partnered with over 20,000 publishers to make their content available for on-demand printing (PRNewsWire, 2010).

The digital village is still in mid-construction for many media. Between now and 2015, librarians will need to keep educated and stay curious about emerging trends for the sake of the patronage who rely on them for information services and access. By doing so, the libraries of 2015 remain institutions that promote general intelligence.


In five years, the basic mission of providing access to information will not have changed for libraries. In fact, as access to economic and literacy tools becomes increasingly varied, libraries will have an ever more important role in the community as a central starting access point and for assistance navigating the sea of formats. Furthermore, libraries will become a primary point of contact for citizens whose educational and government services become digitized faster than the availability for these citizens to access them individually. More and more educational, economic, government and literary entities are dotting the digital landscape, and libraries are still the most reliable and only free public transportation on the information superhighway. Libraries strive to deliver their passengers to their five-year destination and still have ample fuel to accurately address where they - and the people they serve - will be in the following five years.


6 ways to reduce irrelevant results on Google search (2010, April 18). MakeUseOf. Retrieved from http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/6-ways-reduce-irrelevant-results-google-search/

Dana, J.C. (1920). A Library Primer. University of California: Library Bureau. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=9aG6AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=John+Cotton+Dana&hl=en&ei=i_aPTNz_F8L78AaAwoyVDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CEoQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q&f=false

Epps, S.R. (2009, December 1). Ten eReader And eBook Predictions For 2010. Forrester Research. Retrieved from http://blogs.forrester.com/sarah_rotman_epps/09-12-01-ten_ereader_and_ebook_predictions_2010

Freeman, John (2009). The Tyranny of E-Mail. New York: Scribner.

Households using the Internet in and outside the home, by selected characteristics: Total, urban, Rural, Principal City, 2007 (2007). U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from http://www.ntia.doc.gov/reports/2008/Table_HouseholdInternet2007.pdf

Jordan, T. (2010, April 7). AAP Reports Book Sales Estimated at $23.9 Billion in 2009. Association of American Publishers. Retrieved from http://www.publishers.org/main/IndustryStats/indStats_02.htm

Maine State Library and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) (2010). Maine State Library. Retrieved from http://www.maine.gov/msl/recovery/index.shtml

Networked Nation: Broadband in America 2007 (2008). National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Retrieved from http://www.ntia.doc.gov/reports/2008/NetworkedNation.html

Riverside County Library System Begins Print-on-Demand Book Printing (2010, March 4). PR Newswire. Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/riverside-county-library-system-begins-print-on-demand-book-printing-86405047.html

Selected statistics for degree-granting institutions enrolling more than 15,000 students in 2007: Selected years, 1990 through 2007-08 (2009). National Center for Educations Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d09/tables/dt09_236.asp

Sony Unveils Reader Library Program to Promote Digital Reading at Public Libraries (2010, June 29). Sony. Retrieved from http://news.sel.sony.com/en/press_room/consumer/computer_peripheral/e_book/release/57890.html

The portal to apply for broadband funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (2010). Broadband USA. Retrieved from http://broadbandusa.sc.egov.usda.gov/

US Trade Wholesale Electronic Book Sales (2010). International Digital Publishing Forum. Retrieved from http://www.idpf.org/doc_library/industrystats.htm

Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (1998, August 7). United States Deptarment of Labor. Retrieved from http://www.doleta.gov/usworkforce/wia/wialaw.pdf

Lisa Neal-Shaw is a reference librarian at the Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle, Maine. To contact Lisa, please email her at lisa.mn.shaw@gmail.com. Special thanks to William C. Menna, MS for research and editorial assistance.