Grand County libraries – still community spaces, just more high-tech |

Grand County libraries – still community spaces, just more high-tech

Stephanie Ralph
Grand County Libriaries
Grand County, CO Colorado

From the scrolls gathered by King Ptolemy in the Great Library of Alexandria in 300 BC to the present day, libraries have acted as repositories of human thought and understanding. However, as we move into the 21st Century, libraries have morphed from merely gathering and sorting information into more comprehensive roles: Providing access to a wide range of materials and information as well as vibrant community spaces where people can meet and exchange views. Revolutionary innovations in technology, an escalating number of books published every year and changing needs in communities have shaped and changed library services and buildings.

The rapid growth in technology has affected many of the basic roles played by librarians in the past. Checking out books is now placed in the hands of library customers at self checkout stations, leaving librarians free to spend more time with library customers. An additional step, adopted in some libraries, is to place Radio Frequency Identification tags in all library materials. These identifiers allow materials to be checked in automatically and roughly sorted into bins for re-shelving. The new technology makes way for better customer service with less waiting in line, a better understanding of lending patterns and more time for librarians to interact with their customers. Alan Hopkinson of Middlesex University Library says of RFID “bibliochip” technology, “it makes self-service so much easier and enables library users to borrow and return books freeing up the time of library staff for other tasks.”

A recent trend in reading materials for libraries is the electronic book. Simply put, e-books are books in a digital format that can be transferred to your computer, an e-book reader or other handheld devices. The e-book reader devices are the size of a slim paperback novel storing over 200 books, with highly readable screens and a long battery life. The user can make notes, save clippings or quotations and highlight passages. According to Overdrive, the e-book distributer used by Grand County Library District, e-book circulation is expanding at an amazing rate. They claim that e-book checkouts have increased to more than one million in 2009, up from 600,000 in 2007. For libraries, they provide the potential to offer our communities access to an almost limitless number of titles and magazines while requiring no additional expensive shelf space.

Other electronic formats offered in libraries such as downloadable audio books are growing in popularity. People are discovering the pleasures of listening to their favorite authors while on the move. If you have not already tried the new technology, check out the Overdrive site at where downloadable e-books, audio books and downloadable videos are available. Go to the Overdrive database frequently as they are constantly responding to increased demand by rapidly growing their range and choice of titles.

To date, Grand County Library District checks out MP3 players for downloadable audio and is looking into the possibility of providing library customers with e-book readers for checkout.

How are library buildings being reshaped in the internet age? With the advent of Web 2.0, the social networking that has produced Facebook, Twitter and Second Life, libraries are still the place where communities can come together. In Seattle, architect Rem Koolhaas, has created a public library on a magnificent scale that mixes books with performance areas, art exhibitions, space for children, and a Starbucks for teenagers. In our own library buildings in Grand County, an observer can see these same functions in action. In pleasant airy spaces, library visitors find reading materials, use computers, snuggle into quiet peaceful corners or share the company of friends, research and improve job skills, take classes, share ideas, enjoy local artists and musicians and always find a warm greeting from a librarian who probably knows them by name.