Archived Story

Library planning for the future [UPDATED]

Published 10:06am Friday, November 1, 2013 Updated 12:08pm Friday, November 1, 2013

The Minnesota Library Association Conference was held Oct. 10 and 11 in St. Cloud. The proximity meant that many Fergus Falls Public Library staff members were able to attend. Attending this annual conference always generates new ideas and helps us refresh and recharge.

It’s no secret that the times, they are a’changin and libraries are no exception. This year’s conference focused on some specific changes affecting libraries including the aging of America, the rise of self-publishing and content creation, and, of course, eBooks.

I would like to briefly touch on each of these topics here.

According to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, for the first time in history, there will be more Minnesota residents over the age of 65 than school-age children by 2020. This demographic shift will affect many agencies, including libraries.

Recognizing this trend, the Fergus Falls Public Library has begun offering more programming for adults, including legacy-funded bus trips, author visits, educational lectures, and technology classes.

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center also found that more than half of individuals over the age of 65 use the Internet and email. The library offers one-on-one technology appointments to help individuals learn how to use new technologies.

During the conference, library staff attended sessions on services for library patrons 50 and older. We found that although we’ve started modifying our services to better meet the needs of this growing age group, there is more we can and should do.

We came back with many exciting new ideas, including ways to offer more meaningful programming. Stay tuned.

In addition to focusing on changing demographic trends, a number of conference sessions also concentrated on new technologies and how they are or might affect library services.

One particularly hot trend is the dramatic rise in self-publishing. According to a recent survey by Bowker, more than 391,000 books were self-published last year, a 59% increase over 2011.

This trend affects libraries in a number of ways. As a result of the increase in self-published works, libraries have more books to choose from when deciding which titles to purchase for their collections. Beyond collections, however, a number of libraries also help prospective authors navigate the self-publishing world.

There are numerous companies that offer self-publishing services and numerous ways to self-publish. However, as the presenter during a conference session I attended revealed, there are also legal issues and marketing methods to consider when self-publishing. Libraries can help point potential authors to relevant self-publishing information.

To segue, many self-published works are either debuting in print and eBook format or solely as eBooks.

A session I attended on trends impacting library services provided an illuminating portrait of the growth of eBooks. eBooks experienced really, wild sales growth in 2010 and 2011.

According to the Association of American Publishers, in 2010 eBook sales increased 252 percent over the previous year.

Of course, the eBook format was quite new then. According to the same source, in 2013, that wild growth seems to be leveling off. During the first quarter of 2013, eBook sales were up just 5 percent over last year.

What does this mean for readers and libraries? Well, the conference presenter, Valerie Horton of Minitex, cited the observation of the Washington Post’s Neil Irwin, “old technologies never die, they just fade into a smaller, niche offering.”

Irwin mentions the co-existence of radios and television as an example.

So, all this is to say, that, in some cases, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Irwin surmises that readers are beginning to make choices because they have the choice. Readers may prefer eBooks for travel, but print books for reading serious nonfiction, etc. Of course, generational preferences and technological advances will continue to affect eBook adoption as well.

At the Fergus Falls Public Library, our eBook collection and readership continues to grow. Currently we check out more than 700 eBooks and downloadable audiobooks on average each month and this is from a collection of just over 3,000 items. Yet, check-out of our physical materials also remains steady.

So, what does all of this mean for the Library Renewal Project?

Next Steps for Library Renewal Project

At 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4, the Library Renewal Project Task Force will present its findings to the City Council and Library Board during a joint work session in the Jean Dahling Meeting Room at the Fergus Falls Public Library. The Task Force is excited to share what we’ve learned during the last year and a half about how our community uses its library and, also, about what community members see as library needs.

The Task Force conducted focus groups and a community-wide survey to get feedback on the library. During the work session, Task Force members will share a Needs Assessment based on community input, library staff interviews, and research on future trends for libraries.

Following the work session during a future Council meeting, the Task Force plans to present a recommendation to the City Council on the next steps for the Library Renewal Project.

Thanks, as always, for reading. See you at the Library.


Erin Smith is the director of the Fergus Falls Public Library.


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