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ELKHART -- Elkhart Public Library is grabbing hold of the 21st century with both hands.
Eight years after its 100th anniversary and eight months into new leadership, the library is going live with several social media and digital initiatives. Its social media committee launched a Facebook page and a Twitter account earlier this month, and two other projects are in the works that will significantly enhance the library's relevance in the digital age.
Library Director Deborah Stewart said the consumer stampede toward mobile and digital communication prompted her to jump on board with the staff's many suggestions for making EPL "e-ccessible." But traditional books won't be going away. In fact, EPL is already invested in an extensive main branch remodeling project that will begin early in the fall.
For those who want their library on the go and at home, though, such an option is looming.
"The library has always been there to provide information, resources and entertainment, in whatever format is available. That's what libraries do, whether we do it in regular or a digital format. That's what we're here for," Stewart said.
Current literature is available in mobile, electronic format on Ipads and devices called e-readers. EPL has signed a contract with e-book distributor Overdrive for $15,000 to provide a selection of up to 600 copyrighted, digital books a year that will be accessible through a number of e-readers. The plan, Stewart said, is for that service to go live by National Library Week in April.
Patrons will be able to download books in the EPL online collection to their own Kobo, Ipads, Nooks or other Mobi-format e-readers by entering their library card information. As with regular books, e-books can be checked out for up to three weeks. In a bit of electronic wizardry, when the loan period is up the book simply disappears from the patron's device. The free service will not be available on Amazon's Kindle e-reader, however, because Kindle uses a different format than most other e-readers.
Only one patron will be able to check out an e-book at a time, and the system can even place a hold on an item at a patron's request. According to Stewart, Overdrive has also announced plans to add music and video to its online offerings in the near future.
EPL librarians are getting to know the various devices. Later this year they will offer classes to teach residents how to use the devices.
E-books will form part of a planned EPL digital branch that Stewart would like to see launched by the end of 2011. E-branch customers will be able to perform many of the same activities from nearly anywhere in the world that they currently do at the physical library.
"This will be great. If people don't want to get in their car and drive all the way down here, or if it's after 10 and the library's closed, they can still use the library," Stewart said. "That's so important for kids these days. They're really busy."
Online story hours posted on YouTube and online training should also be viewable at the e-branch. Any class that is normally offered at the library will also be viewable with a few clicks on the library web site, once the e-branch is live.
EPL's extensive online reference resources will be part of the e-branch. Early this week, an expanded online resource library goes active on the EPL website. It will be updated and expanded again before the e-branch launch. Patrons will still be able to access the database by entering their library card number.
EPL publishes a monthly newsletter whose traditional format has already gone away. An electronic version is being offered in its place to patrons who subscribe by e-mailing email@example.com or calling 522-3333.
"What we've found is that the Montage is very expensive, and that's risen in the last few years," Stewart said. "The thing is, we mail it out to people all over the country, but the ones we put out here don't get picked up. Or if they do, they get left in the library or we find them in the trash can. It doesn't serve the purpose it first served."
In addition to saving the library printing costs and postage fees, Stewart is also excited about the fact that the online newsletter is customizable. A patron can be sent just the news from the children's department, one staff member's column or whatever they prefer. It will also be instantly available, versus the several days' wait required for periodicals.
ON THE GO AND AT HOME
EPL on Twitter: @myepl
EPL on Facebook: www.facebook.com
EPL website: www.myepl.com