21st century library a lot more than just books

By NATHAN VOELLER/Montana State News

Prospective patrons who expect to see a warehouse full of books will observe something else when they enter the Bozeman Public Library. To reach the first shelves of books, they must pass a coffee shop, a large meeting room, electronic anti-theft detectors and self-checkout circulation desks.

According to Lois Dissly, the head of technical and automated services at the Bozeman Public Library, libraries are no longer just about books. Technological advances have spurred changes in library services, the way libraries are used and even the jobs of librarians.

Dissly said one of the largest changes the Bozeman Public Library and other libraries across Montana have undergone has been the emergence of MontanaLibrary2Go as a new service.

According to the Statewide Library Resources Division, “MontanaLibrary2Go is a consortium service that offers circulating downloadable digital e-books and audiobooks to patrons at participating libraries.”

Any library patron with a valid library card can access over 10,000 free e-books and audiobooks from any location with access to the Internet, according to the Statewide Library Resources Division’s official website. A registered library member with an MP3 player, tablet or e-reader does not even have to enter the library to utilize its services.

“People can access library resources from anywhere,” wrote Pam Henley, a technology assistant at the library.

Jennifer Pawlak, an involved patron at the library, also suggested that technology is providing new ways to access library materials.

“Technology has allowed information access to become quicker, mobile and personalized,” Pawlak wrote.

Issues with the MontanaLibrary2Go system still exist, Dissly said. People who are 35 years old to 80 years old often do not know how to use the technology.

Dissly said that she has recently been given permission to price e-readers by Susan Gregory, the director of Bozeman Public Library. With funding, Dissly could provide library users with the opportunity to borrow e-readers which could be used to help older patrons learn how to utilize systems like MontanaLibrary2Go.

“For less than $200 each, I can put together these nice little community e-readers,” said Dissly.

Paula Beswick, the director of the Bozeman Public Library Foundation, said library programs have also been planned to help the elderly learn how to use technology. Members of the foundation will be going to assisted living homes to offer their help.

“We are physically going to them several times in May,” said Beswick.

Dissly said that another change experienced by the Bozeman Public Library has been the transition to the use of the Montana Shared Catalog. According to the Statewide Library Resources Division, the catalog strives to standardize systems and often provides patrons at member libraries with access to the collections of other libraries.

According to Dissly, another advantage of the system is that libraries can receive support from one another due to a mutual knowledge of the Montana Shared Catalog.

However, Dissly said the catalog has also proven to be cumbersome and overwhelming for users. Libraries using the Montana Shared Catalog have lost the ability to simplify and personalize their library catalogs to fit the needs of patrons.

“You felt like you gave up so much local control,” said Dissly.

As technological advances have crept into the Bozeman Public Library, Dissly said the very reason why some people come to visit has changed.

Beswick said the Bozeman Public Library Foundation provided 135 programs for community members last year. Patrons come to the library to participate in activities involving any of a large number of subjects including music, art, theater and technology.

Also, Dissly said some segments of the library building are designed to provide environments where groups can meet. In some ways, the Bozeman Public Library has become a community center.

According to the official website of the Bozeman Public Library, groups can reserve a large or small meeting room at the library for events of an “informational, educational, cultural or civic nature.” Library program groups and community organizations regularly use the meeting rooms as places to bond together.

Children have the opportunity to interact at the Bozeman Public Library as well. Dissly said mothers often bring their children to the play area at the library so they can socialize.

“People will always need other people,” Dissly said.

Other patrons have begun to regularly work within the confines of the library, according to Dissly. She said the library is a quiet place for thought which also provides the silent companionship of others.

Dissly said she has seen ministers working on sermons and tutors meeting with their students in the library, and college students and traditional workers regularly spend long periods of time at the library completing tasks. Community members have also taken notice of the growing use of the library by a variety of individuals.

“I have the sense that public libraries in particular are in the midst of transitioning into a new role, providing not only traditional services but providing a physical common ‘town center,’” wrote Pawlak.

The employees of the Bozeman Public Library have not remained untouched by advancing technology and the shift toward a more community building approach, according to Dissly. What it means to be a librarian has changed.

Dissly said librarians are now expected to go out into the community to help with programs and to actively seek to assist patrons while in the library. She sees this as a large change in approach from how librarians often operated in the past.

“Libraries used to attract introverts. Now we have to be out there selling things. In some ways, we are all salesmen,” said Dissly.

Henley said librarians no longer only store information. Library employees are now expected to teach patrons how to find information and determine its validity.

“The librarian’s job has shifted a little to more of instruction on finding and using information rather than just providing information as in the past. We show people where to find what they are looking for and how to be critical about what they find,” wrote Henley.

Library employees are not the only ones who have noticed the role of librarians changing to favor extroverts who are willing to teach. Pawlak said she has noticed the added responsibilities of librarians.

“The need to stay not only technologically literate but to own the ‘leader/teacher’ role is a new challenge for the profession and will require a different skill set than librarians needed in the past,” Pawlak wrote.

Although Dissly said she believes the number of physical books in libraries may decline in the future, she also said she thinks libraries and librarians will always be important parts of their communities. No matter how much time passes, certain people will not be able to afford e-readers or paper books and will come to libraries for the opportunity to learn.

“Librarians and libraries have always been the great equalizers,” Dissly said.

Edited by Michele McDonald


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