The Future of Public Libraries in Indiana

Each morning, after feeding and watering the dogs, I hop on my bike for the mile ride from my house to the Plainfield-Guilford Township Public Library where I work as the Digital Services Librarian. I like everything about this job – the five minute bike commute, my co-workers, the role of the public library in my hometown. I also get to observe (and, I hope, meaningfully participate in) several trends that are changing the nature of libraries and the Plainfield Public Library in particular.

Evergreen Indiana: Five years ago, a group of public libraries – including the Plainfield-Guilford Township Public Library – created a consortium – Evergreen Indiana – to share materials, catalog records, technology costs and to operate under identical circulation policies. The consortium chose to operate with an open-sourced Integrated Library System, freeing themselves of expensive proprietary ILS software. (Fans of good government should be cheering for Evergreen Indiana; by moving 104 libraries from annual fees for proprietary software to a free, open source ILS, Indiana taxpayers have saved millions of dollars, even before the savings from more efficient inter-library transfers and cooperative purchasing are also taken into account!) Evergreen Indiana has made it much, much easier to fill Ranganthan’s classic mantra “Every reader his book and every book its reader.” More people at my library are able to quickly get the book they need, and more people outside of Plainfield have access to our collection thanks to the shared catalog! Indeed, the library’s participation in the consortium has made the Plainfield-Guilford Township Public Library, the single largest loaner of materials outside of its legal taxing district in the state. This means that Plainfield is shipping resources to more people in Indiana than any other library in the state – public or academic! There is nothing more exciting to a librarian than to see our collection getting used.

Digital Services: Apart from embracing a consortium model for providing library services to the public, the move to digital media has also changed the nature of the public library. This change has little to do with the tacile difference between reading a paper book and reading a book on your iPad or Nook. The change isn’t the new technology per se, but the new ownership model that comes with it.  With most digital services – ebooks, streaming video and music – libraries are no longer purchasing materials to lend out as the library sees fit, but rather the library licenses materials on behalf of our patrons, for use as the publisher sees fit. The current e-book market is a great example of this problem;  some publishers refuse to sell ebooks to libraries, while others charge 4-5 times the retail price for a title or put restrictions on how many users can access a book before the library must “buy” another copy. Still, the benefits of licensing enormous collections of digital material are great – quick and easy access to content on devices that are increasingly indispensable to our patrons.

So where does all this lead? I expect Evergreen Indiana to be around for a very long time. In fact, it is such a good deal for small and medium sized libraries, that within the next 10 years, there will be few public libraries in the state that haven’t joined. (The large library systems in Indianapolis, Evansville and Fort Wayne, who have less incentive to join, will probably remain independent, though it would be really nice if they did join!)  As for the changing of the traditional library model of ownership to licensing, I’m much less sure. I am confident that our “dead tree collection” will stay around for a long time, longer than my career, at least. So, the time I spend working at the library will be about balancing two different models of being a lending library – ownership and licensing – and making those different models function as a single, cohesive collection serving the mission of the library.


One thought on “The Future of Public Libraries in Indiana

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s