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"Genealogy Today", by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
From the Green Valley News, Sunday 16 September 2012, page B1

Public Libraries in the Digital-Age

As a genealogist and historian, I am a big fan of libraries. I was borrowing books from the public library before I went to kindergarten and have never stopped. I could never afford to buy all the books I read.

The man responsible for the United States' public library system is Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist, who emigrated here as a child in 1848. A self-made man, Carnegie began working at age 13 and educated himself reading books borrowed from others. Carnegie was instrumental in the establishment of public libraries throughout the U.S., the U. K., and other English-speaking countries.

The first Carnegie library was opened in 1883 in Dunfermline, Scotland, his birthplace. Any locale could qualify for a Carnegie library as long as it provided the land and operating budget for the library built and equipped by Carnegie. The founder of the Carnegie Steel Company (later U.S. Steel), during his lifetime Carnegie gave away over $350 million ($4.8 billion in 2010 dollars) to establish free libraries and fund educational institutions. After his death his last $30 million was similarly disbursed.

Here in Green Valley we are fortunate to be part of the Pima County library system as it gives us a vast collection of books to draw from. If a book is anywhere in the system, one can reserve it and pick it up at the local library. Up to 15 books can be reserved at a time, and my reserve list is always maxed out.

An article in The Arizona Star on August 20, 2012 describes the future of our public library. Tom Ward, Pima County Library board president said, "In the old days, you thought about a library as a place to go and get a book. Now you think of it as a place to learn to read, to learn to use the Internet and to use the Internet to get books to read. It comes full circle."

Sorry, but I still think of it as a place to go and get a book. The Board believes the future of the library is digital, and plans to spend 15% of the total library budget on digital books. The extra space created by shelving fewer books will be used for meeting rooms.

I bumped into the reality of this change this morning when I searched the library catalog for a book I wanted to reserve, and found it only available as an electronic resource. Now maybe I'm an old fogey, but I still like to read a traditional book with pages.

I don't have a Kindle, a Nook or other digital reader and have no plans to obtain one at this time, and doubt I am the only library user with this mindset. I think it sad if our library is selecting books for digital users only and leaving those of us who choose not go digital without access to a new book or books.

Last year, library patrons checked out nearly 160,000 e-books and audiobooks; of that number about 29% were downloaded to electronic reading devices. Not mentioned was the number of traditional books borrowed. The article said the library expects the number of digital downloads to triple over the next four years. Of course, they can self-fulfill this prophecy by limiting the availability of traditional print forms.

Digital readers can be very convenient for genealogists when travelling to do research. They are lightweight, no larger than a standard book, have their own light source, run several hours via rechargeable battery, and have Internet capability. Before buying compare features of various offerings as most are priced similarly.

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