As digital publishing options become more and more prevalent, libraries of all kinds are working to incorporate digital into their collections and service offerings. This is no easy task, and libraries face plenty of obstacles as they gear up for the digital age. To get a bit of insight about how some libraries and librarians seem to be dealing with the changes of “Library 2.0,” we spoke with Kathy Ishizuka, the technology editor of School Library Journal, and Shayera Tangri, a branch manager for the Los Angeles Public Library.
Kathy (@kishizuka) and Shayera (@shayera) have graciously agreed to join us for today’s #FollowReader discussion, where we’ll be talking about how libraries are changing and what it means for readers. Please join us on Twitter beginning at 4pm EST today. (Use the hashtag #FollowReader to join in).
1. How do librarians feel about the increasing digitization of information?
Kathy Ishizuka: From my perspective covering K-12 education, I would say school librarians and media specialists are embracing the increased digitization of information, if not leading the way in this regard in the K-12 community. They are, after all, at the front lines – negotiating the information needs of students and teachers and coping with dwindling, even-nonexistent budgets, all while trying to impart literacy skills and the critical thinking required in this new information landscape.
Numerous libraries, public and school, are doing remarkable things in terms of providing portals to their collections. An especially appealing one is that of the Casa Grande High School library in Petaluma, CA, created by its librarian Anna Koval. Teen book clubs, links to subscription databases, both the schools and the local library’s, and other reference sources – it’s all there, presented in a very cool way. As a mother of two of them, I think I can say that teenagers are the toughest critics – I have to imagine they can be tough as patrons, too. I’d bet they’d find Big House a great place to hang out in person or online.
Concerning subscription databases, vendors have created widgets – a very exciting development in the school library community.
Shayera Tangri: I can only speak from personal experience, but I have found that staff has been pretty positive in their reaction to dealing with digital issues. In fact, it was a couple of my older librarians who were the most excited about patrons being able to access digital media. Our patrons can access books, music, and videos in digital formats. Across all levels, juvie, YA and adult.
I feel a little Pollyana-ish saying “they love it” but I think that librarians, in general, want people to have access to items. So it doesn’t matter the format as much as the ability to get to it.
2. In theory, digitization of information should mean library resources (both financial and physical) will go further. In your experience, is this the case in practice?
Kathy Ishizuka: I’m very interested in assessing the budgetary impact on school libraries and media centers and would love to hear from people in the trenches about what they’re facing in 2010 and what they’re investing in. We’re planning to conduct a survey – mainly to assess technology and the adoption of 2.0 tools, but budget issues will be a part. (SLJ is also planning a survey on audiobooks.) But again, I’m eager to listen to your stories out there!
Shayera Tangri: In theory yes. There are titles (mostly computer books and non-fiction) that get bought in ebook and not paper. It works out to be more cost effective to buy a digital copy instead of a paper copy.
3. What is the overall reaction of patrons to the new technologies being introduced into libraries? Is there a split reaction between that of “digital natives” and “digital immigrants?”
Kathy Ishizuka: Kids have a natural openness to try new things (of course, we do our best in institutions to scare everyone out of that, don’t we?) and are generally enthusiastic. But with technology, there is that gap of experience, comfort level, not to mention socioeconomic, cultural factors that exist among teachers and librarians, not just kids.
The recent Pew study on cellphone use provides new evidence of a growing digital divide. It’s especially concerning since mobile devices will play an increasing role as learning, reading, and reference tools. Then there’s library usage outside school and the relative access and support that kids have at home.
A perennial issue among school librarians is bridging the divide among resistant teacher peers, same would go for public library staff, I would guess – I know “Follow the Reader” participants could advise us here.
Shayera Tangri: I’ve found that it’s younger and older patrons that are most enthusiastic about digital offerings. It’s people with children in school who’ve been most resistant to digital media. Once people start realizing what exactly they can access, though, that’s when they become more enthusiastic about it. (I know, not a shocker of a revelation.)
I have to be clear that I have no input in what gets purchased in eformats. I can pass along requests from patrons. But that’s the extent of my responsibilities when it comes to emedia collection development. My branch is close to one of the Cal State campuses. So during the university year, I do see more interest in emedia. But I’ve also seen interest grow year by year. It’s coming.
4. What challenges and obstacles (including politics and internal struggles) do libraries face in trying to serve patrons in the digital age?
Kathy Ishizuka: In schools: filtering; a resistant administration, both at the site and district level; IT (isn’t that everyone’s problem?); funding; difficulties engaging teachers and others, including public libraries, as partners; media, information literacy issues (vetting of sources); copyright, fair use, plagiarism; the ongoing need for professional development.
Shayera Tangri: The biggest challenge has to be just getting patrons to look at what’s available in emedia offerings. I can tell a patron that the physical copy of the book has 350 holds but the ebook has 7. And they’ll prefer to go on the huge wait list. We’ve been lucky at LAPL that our administrators have been very pro emedia and have done their best to pass their enthusiasm to staff.
And of course there are staff who would rather poke their eyes out than have to deal with emedia.
5. Are librarians getting more “social?” Can you recommend any of your favorite library-related blogs and websites?
Kathy Ishizuka: God, yes. I can’t keep up with these people. I generally don’t like to recommend and my range of sources is so wide – everyone on Twitter is a genius and a generous one. There are SLJ‘s bloggers and the PLA (Public Library Association) does a really nice job with their blog. ALAConnect is quite awesome in what it’s trying, or rather is accomplishing as a network. Quite honestly, I’m a bit frightened of it. I need to get in there and really check it out.
Shayera Tangri: I think librarians were always social. We’ve just learned to use the new tools better. :-)
I like these blogs, not necessarily because of their library content.
http://super_librarian.blogspot.com/ – The Misadventures of Super Librarian
http://bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com/bookshelves_of_doom/ – bookshelves of doom
http://www.earlyword.com/ – Early Word
http://www.bookslut.com/blog/ – Book Slut
http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/ – Galleycat
Kathy Ishizuka is the technology editor of School Library Journal.
Shayera Tangri is a branch manager for the Los Angeles Public Library and former children’s librarian.