Local libraries are caught between a rock and a hard place as they attempt to keep up with the technology revolution. Weare Library Director Christine Hague points out that, “Technology costs more than the old ways of managing a town library. This is a very difficult dilemma because we have a population that wants only paper and one that wants only electronic and there is not enough money for both.”
The growth of digital books has presented special problems for local librarians. Goffstown library has available 2 Kindle e-readers, 1 Sony Touch e-reader, and 1 Nook e-reader, but library director Dianne Hathaway says, “As far as e-books, we are having to further divide an already limited budget yet another way to purchase that content to meet demand.” Several local libraries belong to the NH Downloadable Books Consortium, including Goffstown, Bow, New Boston, Dunbarton, Weare and Hopkinton. Over 150,000 titles are available through the program, which is supported by 150 NH public libraries. Bow Library Director Lori Fisher explains, “We are always trying to inform our users about NH Downloadable books and the databases available through the NH State Library (particularly EBSCO, which has magazines available in full-text and pdf.”
Libraries are also reaching out to meet the digital needs of families and youth by loaning popular DVDs and CDs, and the Goffstown Library has a growing collection of video games. Most of the libraries now have free wi-fi, and all have several dedicated computers for both adults and children, including educational games and job-search software. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in patrons wanting help setting up an e-mail account, dealing with job search websites and applications, and dealing with government sites such as NH Employment Services and the Federal IRS site,” explains Fisher.
Since none of the libraries has a dedicated IT person, each librarian works two jobs both with the traditional information and with customer tech support. “It has been a challenge to train ourselves for the variety of technology the public is using,” explains Hathaway. Hague continues, “ We try to set aside time to learn about new devices and answer questions for patrons, but we can’t always afford the hardware.” Still, as Fisher points out, “Digital technology is drawing new library users to us.”
As more and more information and entertainment options become available in digital format, the public libraries are doing an impressive job keeping up with constant change. Goffstown recently redesigned it’s web site to be compatible with portable devices such as tablets and smart phones. As the public becomes more accustomed to reading digital books and newspapers, the local libraries are staying current and using creative ways to hold the budget in check. Still, as Hague points out, all the libraries are cash strapped and need public support if they are going to march boldly into the new millennium.