Libraries expand services, stay on forefront of technology, information sharing

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Editor’s note: This story pairs with “Modern libraries expanding their role to empower, educate, engage

Tiki Levinson has worked in libraries in Alaska for 29 years. During this time she has experienced the technological shift firsthand.

“I was a librarian before the Internet was a common thing, and then it was feared for about a decade,” he said. “Now it is embraced and seen as the tool that it is.”

Libraries have had to expand to accommodate technology. Emily Knox, an associate professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that as new technology is introduced, libraries just add it to their collection.

Knox encourages her students to not get hung up on the format of the information, whether it be print or digital. “You get the formats that work best for the information needs of your patrons,” she said.

This graphic displays statistics on Utah Public Libraries from data gathered by the Utah State Library Division. (Lauren Lethbridge)

Online resources continue to grow at academic, public and school libraries. Programs like OverDrive and Libby allow patrons to borrow e-books through their mobile devices. Academic libraries offer a vast array of online textbooks, databases and articles free for students. 

Many libraries provide free internet access, something not every person can obtain on their own. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 4/10 adults in U.S. households with incomes lower than $30,000 do not have high-speed internet or a traditional computer in 2019. Only three-fourths of adults in higher-income U.S. households have access to high-speed internet, desktop or laptop computer and a smartphone.

Some libraries have started collecting devices like video cameras, 3D printers and microphones and allowing patrons to check out or use them. Often libraries will provide areas for the use of these devices. 

Provo City Library recently added a Basement Creative Lab that gives patrons studio space. The lab also offers classes for both children and adults that vary in topic and format. One class is called “Video Tools Petting Zoo,” which allows visitors to experiment with video editing, camera and lighting equipment.

While accessing a library’s online content, patrons are often provided links to related resources. Maggie Marchant, a graduate of the University of Tennessee’s School of Information Sciences, said this can lead people to find things they might not have if they were just searching on their own.

Information becoming more accessible online makes it more interactive, allowing librarians to attach helpful links, videos and audio to articles. Marchant said she believes interactivity works well with spreading information and expanding knowledge. 

“I feel like libraries are portals or gateways to resources. You can find things without going to the library … but libraries make it more efficient. The resources that you’re getting are high quality,” Marchant said. 

The increasing digitization in libraries leads some to believe paper books will soon disappear from libraries. Eric Jennings, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire and head of user services at the McIntyre Library, said physical copies of books and documents help libraries keep track of what they own and can lend. 

Jennings said libraries need to educate users on the cost of the information they access. “We need to do a better job at making sure that we brand our resources so that our users know that the library is the one that provides access to the information … that is essentially free,” he said.

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