Think you could predict libraries’ future? Foresee upcoming trends? Suggest adaptations to new technology and increasing publisher demands? Jamie LaRue does.
As director of Douglas County Libraries in Colorado, LaRue is widely considered a library visionary. When he was first hired in 1990, DCL ranked as the worst libraries in the state. By 2009, it was considered
No. 1 for its size. That’s No. 1, by the way, in the nation.
So when York County Libraries began its strategic planning sessions, hosting LaRue as a library expert was an easy decision.
“We’re doing our homework,” said Deb Sullivan, community relations director for York County Libraries. “We’re gathering information and bringing in experts that will help us in our decision-making as we’re setting our course.”
And LaRue has plenty of information to give.
His presentation Thursday evening at Martin Library focused on current trends in libraries nationwide, from ebooks to changing uses of library space.
The first step, LaRue said, is to understand why people visit the library. The No. 1 reason? To borrow a book. The No. 2 reason? To bring it back.
“A physical space is still fairly important, even in the age of the Internet,” LaRue said. But he also listed other services libraries provide — circulation of books, yes, but also virtual visits, databases that provide trustworthy information, answers to reference questions, access to public PCs and children’s programs.
Understanding each of these things is imperative in planning for the future, LaRue explained.
“It is not just our job to collect things nobody uses,” he said. “If our purpose is to be advocates for literacy, we don’t accomplish that by putting something on the shelf and leaving it there. Remove them and replace them with something that is alive and new.”
LaRue accepts digital content, technology and ebooks, but he warned against the current system, where libraries don’t technically own the ebooks and must comply with larger publishers’ harsh terms: re-purchasing an ebook after patrons check it out 26 times (comparable to the life of a print book, publishers say), paying three or five times the price of a print book for access to a digital copy, and even waiting six months after a release date for digital copies to become available.
“This is a significant business problem for libraries that we have to solve,” LaRue said. “They’re trying to lock us out of the market.”
He emphasized the need to work with independent, small publishers and authors who have self-published, a trend he called “the greatest explosion in the history of mankind in literature.”
“The economics of publishing have fundamentally changed,” he said. “Publishing today will not survive as it is.”
Sullivan notes the Kindle-lending pilot program at Kaltreider-Benfer Library in Red Lion is a partial work-around to some publishers’ refusal to sell ebooks to libraries.
The five available Kindles come pre-loaded with about 20 New York Times best-sellers, some of which are not available for borrowing through York County Libraries because of publisher restrictions.
“It certainly doesn’t give the customer as much flexibility, but it at least gives us a working way to see, is this a possibility to still provide what they want,” Sullivan said.
LaRue also emphasized the important role of libraries in continuing to promote literacy, through story times and early exposure to language — “one area where we’re very strong,” Sullivan said.
Aside from story times and children’s programs, LaRue also sees libraries becoming more popular as public meeting spaces — for entrepreneurs, business people, school district task forces and other community groups.
“Don’t let us be on the fringe of the revolution,” he said. “Let’s walk into the heart of it.”
After all, he reminded his audience: “If you only do what you’ve always done, you only get what you’ve always gotten.”