December 28, 2011 in City

Libraries boost devotion to digital

E-books, downloadable music growing segment of collection
Kaitlin Gillespie The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Nicole Robinson shelves DVDs at the Spokane Public Library’s downtown branch on Tuesday. An extensive DVD collection makes that section one of the branch’s busiest, but new technologies like digital books are catching on.
(Full-size photo)

County allocations

The Spokane County Public Library is devoting 15 percent of its materials budget to digital media, which represent about 5 percent of its circulation. In November, 11,000 of the library’s 201,000 checkouts came from the downloadable collection.

In its budget for 2012, the county library system has $234,461 to buy downloadable material, including audio books, music and e-books for all ages. That represents a 73 percent increase in digital spending over the past year.

The overall materials budget has also increased by 3 percent over 2011.

Spokane libraries are investing more than ever in digital collections, allocating larger percentages of their materials budgets to audiobooks, music downloads and maintaining databases to serve patrons using the latest gadgets.

“For the last several centuries, the model has been that we buy it,” said librarian Mark Pond, who works for Spokane Public Library. “We buy the physical item, it’s ours, then we deal it out as we see fit. With the digital world, that is shifting. It is causing a lot of upheaval with public libraries, with publishers and with various third-party vendors in between.”

Spokane Public Library is expanding its digital offerings, even as its materials budget shrinks. The library’s materials budget was reduced by $10,000 for 2012, library director Pat Partovi said. Still, it will spend about $100,000 on its e-book and database systems and $70,000 on music and audiobooks. That’s up from $74,622 and $40,597, respectively, in 2011.

Spokane Public Library also has contracted with Freegal Music, a system that allows patrons to download three free songs a week from the Sony Music catalog. Soon the catalog will quadruple as Freegal adds music from independent record companies through the Independent Online Distribution Alliance.

The Spokane library also launched a new audiobook service Dec. 20.

The library spends $28,000 a year on its contract with Freegal, Pond said. This past year the funds came from a $9,000 reduction in its adult music budget and reductions in other line items.

It’s uncertain if the investments in digital materials will result in long-term savings for the city or county library systems. Savings come from processing and supply costs, loss due to wear and tear, and handling of items, said Andrea Sharps, collection services manager for the Spokane County Public Library.

Freegal saves staff time, but Partovi said she’s not sure what the savings will be.

“New technology requires new investment all the time,” she said. “Are you saving money? I don’t know. You’re just kind of repurposing it.”

Going digital will help the Washington State Library adjust to leaner times. The Legislature approved $498,000 in cuts from the state library’s operating budget for next year, continuing 10 years of reductions.

“It will be more cost effective to be digital,” state librarian Rand Simmons said.

The library has digitized about 40 percent of its collection, Simmons said.

“I do think there will be a continuing effort to make things available digitally as long as the Internet and the Web browser continue to be the dominant way in which people get their information,” he said.

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