[Paleopsych] NYT: Libraries Reach Out, Online

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Libraries Reach Out, Online
NYT December 9, 2004

[Note date. I'm sending 15 articles a day, probably up till Lent, when I 
take my annual Lenten break, to clear off the deck. I'll be going through 
about half a year's Times Literary Supplement. Lots of cool things.

[I've finished six books in my project of abandoning reality for fiction. 
I'm about to start Orhan Pamuk, _Snow_, about a Turkish exile who tried to 
go back home from Germany, where religion is still quite powerful. This is 
exactly what I'm most interested in, the clash of cultures and, more so, 
how cultures differ and whether the differences are so deep and permanent 
that they might by now be innate.]

THE newest books in the New York Public Library don't take
up any shelf space.

They are electronic books - 3,000 titles' worth - and the
library's 1.8 million cardholders can point and click
through the collection at www .nypl.org, choosing from
among best sellers, nonfiction, romance novels and
self-help guides. Patrons borrow them for set periods,
downloading them for reading on a computer, a hand-held
organizer or other device using free reader software. When
they are due, the files are automatically locked out - no
matter what hardware they are on - and returned to
circulation, eliminating late fees.

In the first eight days of operation in early November, and
with little fanfare, the library's cardholders - from New
York City and New York state and, increasingly, from
elsewhere - checked out more than 1,000 digital books and
put another 400 on waiting lists (the library has a limited
number of licenses for each book).

E-books are only one way that libraries are laying claim to
a massive online public as their newest service audience.
The institutions are breaking free from the limitations of
physical location by making many kinds of materials and
services available at all times to patrons who are both
cardholders and Web surfers, whether they are homebound in
the neighborhood or halfway around the world.

For years, library patrons have been able to check card
catalogs online and do things like reserve or renew books
and pay overdue fines. Now they can not only check out
e-books and audiobooks but view movie trailers and soon,
the actual movies.

And they can do it without setting foot in the local

"The lending model is identical to what libraries already
have," said Steve Potash, president of OverDrive, which
provides the software behind the e-book programs in New
York City, White Plains, Cleveland and elsewhere. "But
lending is 24/7. You can borrow from anywhere and have
instant, portable access to the collection."

At the same time, libraries are leveraging technology -
including wireless networks that are made available at no
charge to anyone who wants to use them - to draw people to
their physical premises.

Library e-books are not new - netLibrary, an online-only
e-book collection for libraries, has operated since 1998 -
but the New York Public Library decided to wait for
software that would let users read materials on hand-held
devices, freeing them from computers.

"The key was portability," said Michael Ciccone, who heads
acquisitions at the library. "It needs to be a book-like

E-books' short history has already begun to yield some
lessons. At the Cleveland Public Library, Patricia Lowrey,
head of technical services, thought technical manuals and
business guides would be in greatest demand.

"We were dead wrong on that," Ms. Lowrey said. "There are a
lot of closet romance readers in cyberspace."

She saw patrons check out the same kinds of materials
rotating in the physical collection. The e-books librarians
like best, according to Ms. Lowrey, are the digitized
guides and workbooks for standardized tests, which in
printed form are notorious for deteriorating quickly or
disappearing altogether.

Cleveland's success with e-books encouraged librarians
there to expand to audiobooks in November, when OverDrive
introduced software to allow downloads of audiobooks. "We
had 28 audiobooks checked out in the first six hours, with
no publicity at all," Ms. Lowrey said.

The OverDrive audiobook software encodes audiobooks from
suppliers' source material, such as compact discs or
cassettes, packages the stories into parts with Windows
Media technology, and manages patrons' downloads. Borrowers
can listen using a computer while online or offline; the
books can also be stored on portable players or burned to

The King County Library System in Washington State, which
serves communities like Redmond and Bellevue and the
computer-savvy workers at local companies like Microsoft
and Boeing, has also embraced both e-books and audiobooks.

In November, the King County libraries added 634
audiobooks to the 8,500 e-books in its catalog
(www.kcls.org). With no publicity at all, 200 of the
audiobooks had already been checked out. "As soon as people
find out about it, it will be extremely popular," said
Bruce Schauer, the library's associate director of

At the King County Library System's Web site, patrons can
watch film trailers and reserve titles, which they can pick
up at a branch. Before long, they can expect to be able to
borrow entire movies online.

Mr. Potash of OverDrive says the company plans to release
such a video program for libraries by next summer.

Posting electronic versions of libraries' holdings is only
part of the library's expanding online presence. Library
Web sites are becoming information portals. Many, like the
Saint Joseph's County Library in South Bend, Ind., have
created Web logs as community outreach tools.

Others are customizing their Web sites for individual
visitors. The Richmond Public Library in British Columbia
(www.yourlibrary.ca), for example, offers registered users
ways to track books and personal favorites, or receive
lists of suggested materials, much like the recommendation
service at Amazon.

Other libraries have moved their book clubs online. Members
of the online reading group at the public library in
Lawrence, Kan., (www.lawrence.lib.ks.us) receive book
passages by e-mail and discuss them in an online forum.

"Libraries have been very enthusiastic adopters of
technology," said Patricia Stevens, the director of
cooperative initiatives at the Online Computer Library
Center, an international cooperative with some 50,000
libraries that share digital resources.

The center, which recently acquired the netLibrary e-book
service, plans to announce a downloadable audiobook package
with the audiobook publisher Recorded Books this month. It
also provides add-on Web site programs that put traditional
librarians' functions on the Internet. "The services found
inside a library are now online," Ms. Stevens said. "And
the trend is to continue moving to remote self-service."

An example is QuestionPoint, a creation of the Online
Computer Library Center and the Library of Congress that
offers live 24-hour assistance from cooperative librarians
via a chat service. More than 1,500 libraries worldwide
make remote reference help available through QuestionPoint,
which recently consolidated with a similar program, the
24/7 Reference Project, started by the Metropolitan
Cooperative Library System in Southern California.

Another library IM tool, Tutor.com, is geared for a younger
audience, helping children with their homework. More than
600 library sites offer the program, which matches students
with tutors, whether for help reducing fractions or
diagramming sentences. More than 105,000 tutoring sessions
have been logged in the United States since September.

But libraries' investments in online services are aimed at
more than just remote users. They are also adding
technology inside their buildings to draw community members
in. Despite all the modernization, old-fashioned formulas
still matter.

"Most libraries measure success by using circulation, so if
you check out a book, that's good for us," said Ms. Lowrey
of the Cleveland Public Library. "There might be a door
counter as well, so if you come in to use a wireless
connection or a PC, we're watching those numbers as well."

In Sacramento, the library system has drummed up interest
by holding several after-hours video game parties in which
teenagers gather to play networked games like Star Wars
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II.

Always on the lookout for the kernel of learning to be
found in the fun, the librarians have matched the game play
with reading material.

"We saw the Star Wars game as providing a great tie-in to
books," said Suzy Murray, youth services librarian for
Sacramento's Carmichael branch. "Teen boys, in addition to
being voracious consumers of video games, are also huge
fans of science fiction, so the connection seemed very

But one of the most effective uses of technology to entice
visitors, librarians say, is turning the building into a
wireless hot spot.

For less than $1,000, a library can set up a wireless
network and draw the public in for free-range Internet

The Wireless Librarian
(people.morrisville.edu/~drewwe/wireless) lists more than
400 such library hot spots in the United States.

Michele Hampshire, Web librarian for the library in Mill
Valley, the woodsy San Francisco suburb, logs an average of
15 wireless users a day on the library's high-speed
connection. "We're not collecting personal information; we
don't put filters on, you don't even need a library card,"
Ms. Hampshire said.

She and other librarians do not consider the rise of online
access a threat, Ms. Hampshire said. Rather, it will allow
librarians to spend less time and money reshelving books
and reordering supplies, and more time helping online and
in-person visitors to find materials.

" Google will never replace me," she said.


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