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Swapping books for digital files

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History: Touch screens, such as the one above showing a drawing of a gas boom glass factory, help visitors to the Marion Public Library Museum navigate local history.
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Touch: Reference librarian Sheri Conover Sharlow overhauls the Marion Public Library’s web page to make it easier to navigate on hand-held mobile devices with touch screens.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

The role of libraries in local communities has been forced to change.

Libraries now must invest in computers, librarian training on topics such as technology, and databases of scholarly articles.

“We have to make sure we are adaptable because people are changing,” said Sheila Carlblom, director of the Jackson Library at Indiana Wesleyan University.

“In the 90s we had card catalogues to sort books, now we have online catalogues and we have online networks,” said Mary Eckerle, library director at Marion Public Library. Now, said Eckerle, everything has changed and there are computers everywhere. The Marion library has more than 60 computers for patrons and staff to use.

In the past, the Marion library had a large reference section that librarians helped people navigate. Today, this section has been severely reduced, said Eckerle, as online databases have been built to house more information than a library could ever contain by itself.

Due to new technology, such as these online databases, there has been increased demand for well-educated librarians.

“A lot of what I hear is why do we need libraries anymore? We can just google it,” said Jessi Brown, library director of the Gas City-Mill Township Public Library, “here’s the thing though, google will give you 1,001 answers, but the librarian will give you the right one.”

Brown said that librarians are specially trained on finding scholarly journals and resources that other people might have difficulty finding. Another need for librarians, according to Brown, involves helping people learn to use their smart devices. The Gas City library regularly assists people who are new to smart devices learn how to use them.

Librarians must regularly stay up to date on the latest in technology, said Brown. Librarians do this by taking online courses to receive education credits and 10 percent of all educational credits must be technology related.

Libraries have experienced an increase in traffic from people who visit the library not to check out a book, but to use the library’s internet, which they might not have access to at home. At the Marion Public Library around 3,000 people use the computers each month for various purposes, according to Eckerle.

At the IWU library, fewer students are checking out books for a variety of reasons, said Carlblom. One of those reasons is the availability of digital books. There are approximately 200,000 books in the IWU library collection, but the library also offers access to 350,0000 e-books, according to Carlblom.

While technology has changed the role a library plays in its community, this does not mean that people are no longer reading print books. According to Eckerle, by September of last year the library had circulated around 146,000 books. This figure does not count other materials offered such as periodicals or audiobooks.

“Not all students want to use e-books, we are discovering that some students are resistant to using e-books,” said Carlblom, “(some students) want to be able to read the book in (their) hands.”