How accessible is your local library?


Kent District Library is partnering with the New York Public Library and a handful of other libraries across the nation to answer the question, “I’d use the library if only …”

Over a two-year period, participatinglibraries will explorehow they can better use new technology — especially eBooks — to reduce barriers to use. They also will examine why people don’t use the library, and look at how policies might be altered so they will.

The effort is being funded by a $500,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

“Libraries need better access to digital content,” said Melissa DeWild, KDL collection development manager. “We really want to put readers first and make it easy for our readers to access digital content through the library.”

DeWild said that KDL currently offers a good deal of digital content, but there are still some barriers to accessing that content that impedes people.

“The library experience at this point doesn’t mirror the consumer experience, and we find that really problematic,” she said. “We want people, when they think of digital content, to think of the library, and come to us and use us.

“I think some people feel like it’s easier to just buy it in two seconds on their Kindle. We feel like you should have the same experience at the library. Right now, it’s not quite there yet.”

DeWild said the library needs to work with more outside vendors. She said libraries and publishers have yet to discover an eBook-lending model that suits both parties.

“(One) idea with this grant is that we would explore making our own eReader and be able to control that experience a little more, make it easier, and offer maybe more options than what other vendors are doing,” DeWild said.

She also said the KDL website requires users to go to several sites outside of the library catalogue for different types of digital and downloadable content.

“We really want to look at how we can make this more of a seamless experience for people,” she said. “We would rather send everyone straight to our library catalogue where they can see all of the options that they have, rather than being sent to all of these different websites, so there is that component, too.”

The project, which is called “Library Simplified,” is in the information-gathering stages.

“Right now we are putting together a survey to get some more information from our patrons on what types of digital content they are using, how they are using it, what types of digital devices they are using. Are they using what they can get at the library, or are they going somewhere else?” she said.

KDL is not the only regional library system concerned with providing broad access to readers, particularly digital and downloadable content. Kalamazoo Public Library recently announced it had partnered with Hoopla Digital to give patrons online and mobile access to free movies, TV shows and audio-books.

“We’re always exploring new services that foster reading for our patrons, while providing on-the-go access to the library’s information,” said Michael Cockrell, head of adult services department at Kalamazoo Public Library. “With Hoopla Digital, content ranges from entertainment to educational, so there’s something for everyone. Patrons only need a library card to get started, and all content is free of charge. It’s also digital so there is no waiting period for popular titles, and Hoopla’s automatic return means no late fees.”

The content is available to KPL cardholders through the free Hoopla digital mobile app on Android or IOS devices, or by visiting

“It is our mission to help public libraries meet the needs of the mobile generation,” said Jeff Jankowski, Hoopla Digital founder and owner. “We’ve worked for years to create a best-in-breed service that is fun, fast and reliable. And we continue to secure content deals to expand the offering of movies, TV shows, music and audio-books.”

Libraries also are looking beyond digital and downloadable content as they work to fit patrons’ needs, which can include access to educational information and support applying for colleges or seeking financial aid, job and career training, résumé help and online application assistance, access to government resources, housing assistance and health care information, all of which have been noted as important library services.

A recent Pew Research Center study, “Libraries and Society,” pointed to a continued belief in the importance of libraries, even in an online era.

American Library Association President Barbara Stripling pointed out in a release regarding the Pew study results that “one-third of all Americans still lack home broadband Internet, and a recent global survey finds U.S. adults lag behind many of their counterparts overseas in basic education skills.”

The study found 72 percent of American adults have either used a public library in the past year or live in a household with a family member who is an active library user, and a recent American Library Association study found public demand for digital training and technology classes increased 36 percent from 2011 to 2012, while the demand for public Internet-connected computers went up 60 percent.

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