Guest Column: Where is the public input on the library?

December 28, 2011

By Rachel Leon

I would like to clarify points made in Frank Novak’s “Staying relevant — why the library must change and embrace the digital revolution” (Dec. 21-27 issue). Mr. Novak is correct that there is a trend with ebooks, and it is the library director’s job to look at trends in publishing. However, it is wrong to imply that the cause of Borders’ closure was their lack of digital books. Many financial analysts do believe that the company’s inability to foresee the trend was a contributing factor to the closure (along with having too much debt, opening too many stores, over-investing in music sales, and perhaps most critically, outsourcing their online books to Amazon).

Mr. Novak stated that public libraries are phasing out print books. However, according to the American Library Association (ALA), most public libraries plan to devote between 8 percent and 10 percent of their total collection budget to digital material by 2016. This is significantly lower than the 34 percent our library is currently allotting. The question I raised previously was, do our city’s demographics reflect the need to spend 34 percent of our collection budget on ebooks, which was never answered in Mr. Novak’s response. Again, I raise the question, but I’ll push further this time ­— where is the public input before making allocations for our collection budget? I visit the library at least once or twice a week and have never seen or been asked to participate in any kind of survey about whether I own an ereader and want to see an increase in the digital collection budget. A public library is a democratic institution and, therefore, should ask public opinion before launching into something of this size. Remember, most libraries are planning to spend 8 percent to 10 percent of their collection budget on digital materials by 2016. I do not deny a national trend toward ebooks, but I again wonder if this 34 percent is permanent and out of touch with Rockford Public Library cardholders.

More than 70 percent of Rockford Public School students are on free or reduced lunch. For those of us who fall into that lower socioeconomic status, an ereader is not affordable. Some people do not have the money to buy food for their children, much less an electronic device that costs around $100. Perhaps I am allowing my background in social work and my awareness of the poverty in this city to cloud my judgment. Perhaps Mr. Novak’s interest in staying relevant and keeping up with the digital trend is clouding his. The only way any of us can find out is by polling the public. For a democratic institution, I would expect nothing less than an invitation for public input.

Rachel Leon is a Rockford resident and Rockford Public Library cardholder. She is a writer and mother who depends on the services and (print) materials that the library provides.

From the Dec. 28, 2011-Jan. 3, 2012, issue

One Comment

  1. Jen

    January 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    I would like to address the letters from Ms. Leon that have been recently published in this paper regarding the library and the digital technolgy revolution that is currently unfolding throughout the world. First, the library’s strategic plan was published on their website for a long time and covered in a RR Star editorial about a year ago. It stated that the library was going to put more resources ($) into digital materials. It was no secret. They asked for public input. I am a Rockford taxpayer & I use the library and guess what? I want more digital materials. You said that at-risk families will not be able to afford e-readers. I am not a wealthy person and I saved up to buy an e-reader. It can be done. The library provides computers and internet service for people who cannot afford to have one at home. They said they plan to provide e-readers also which people can check out. Problem solved. The digital revolution is here and it’s not going away. Burying your head in the sand and hugging paper books is not going to stop it. There is a huge change going on in the publishing industry and libraries across the country are developing new plans to stay relative and thrive. I applaud the library for trying to innovate, provide high quality digital services and technology for the community and working to keep the library relevant. Denying the Rockford population access to new and developing technology and digital collections is short sighted and misinformed. If Rockford hopes to succeed and educate its citizens then we need to provide as much access as possible to digital materials and proccesses. It’s the future and it isn’t going to go away. I also did a great deal of research (on the Internet) and learned that libraries all over the country are spending varying amounts of their collection budgets for digital collections. By the way digital collections include information databases (where people can search for jobs, take educational courses, etc.), periodicals, music, films and books. Why do you want to limit people’s access to this timely information?

    Another point to consider; when people are sitting in their homes or offices downloading books or music on their computers, e-readers, etc, the library won’t need as many staff people. They won’t need as many people checking out books, shelving books, etc. which will save the taxpayers (me included) money. That will make the library system less expensive to operate.

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