Champaign offers another digital library service
CHAMPAIGN — As the Champaign Public Library continues to bolster its digital offerings, one thing is clear: Print is still king at your local library.
That's not to say libraries aren't taking strides to expand their digital services. Champaign's latest offering is the 3M Cloud Library, its first fully-integrated system that works with the library's own catalog to allow users to download ebooks onto their computers, tablets or mobile devices.
The 3M Cloud joins a growing list of digital platforms which have taken off in the past couple years. In conjunction with other services like MyMediaMall, Hoopla and Zinio, gone are the days where patrons must actually visit the library to check out music, movies, magazines or books — but most still do.
"I see these things as sort of complementary," said Kristina Hoerner, the adult services manager at the Champaign Public Library. "There are a lot of people that, they enjoy reading on their device, but there are still some things that they want to read in print. I see that continuing for a very long time."
There's no denying a shift to digital, however, and libraries are trying to keep up with emerging technologies. Champaign might even be a little ahead of the curve, said Carolyn Anthony, the president of the Public Libraries Association.
"It's still a relatively small proportion of our overall circulation," Anthony said. "There's still a good use of conventional media, but it's definitely growing and poised to take off."
Where Hoerner sees print potentially becoming obsolete in the near term is with magazines and newspapers, but to this point, the market for providers who make it possible for libraries to offer digital content has been thin. A company called OverDrive powers MyMediaMall, which was the first ebook, audiobook and video catalog the Illinois Heartland Library System began using nearly a decade ago. OverDrive has dominated the digital library market, making the available options few.
But now a few more providers are starting to test the water, Hoerner said.
"It's not really a push from us," Hoerner said. "It's just that these technologies are now becoming available to libraries."
Zinio came online in Champaign in 2012, and it allows users to check out and keep electronic copies of popular magazines: Car & Driver, The Economist, Esquire, Forbes, Martha Stewart Living, Popular Mechanics, Runner's World and Us are just a few among hundreds of titles.
Hoopla is a new venture for the Champaign Public Library, too. Launched Dec. 1, it allows users to stream movies and music from their electronic devices. It looks and feels a lot like Netflix.
"I think Hoopla is an attempt to get libraries in that same niche," Anthony said. "One of the things we've learned that convenience and ease of use is important."
With digital platforms and electronic delivery, library patrons can log in at any time — at 2 a.m., if they want — and check out a book or a movie. With the 3M Cloud Library, the book returns itself on the due date.
One particular feature of the 3M Cloud Library has Champaign officials excited. It is fully-integrated with the library catalog, which means users won't have to go looking for materials in a separate place, like with the MyMediaMall website and Zinio and Hoopla apps.
Separating content in different catalogs "really is not acceptable to public libraries, so it's one of the things that's been delaying a little bit public libraries' involvement," Anthony said.
The 3M logo will be readily visible in the standard catalog, telling users if a book or other item is available electronically.
Still, digital services are part of an evolving market. There are not many options, for example, to offer newspapers on mobile devices. Providers have found the cost of compiling all the content prohibitive for now, Hoerner said.
There is not a good business model yet, Anthony said. In the realm of ebooks, publishers are still wary of licensing their digital content to libraries before seeing how it shakes out from a profit side, and providers are still feeling out pricing and licensing models.
The Public Libraries Association is still feeling out the digital realm as it considers what to recommend to its members, Anthony said. Balancing tight budgets between print and digital materials will be a complex task.
"We really have to see the rate of adoption," Anthony said. "I would say it's really kind of a monitor, watch and see."
The challenge for the Champaign Public Library, Hoerner said, will be how to divide library resources between print and digital to make sure everyone is getting what they want and how they want it.
"I see us trying to play this balancing game because the print's not going to go away. Maybe in the next five years, we won't have DVDs or CDs any more; that, I can't say for sure," Hoerner said. "But we're still going to try to balance it between those resources because we want to be able to provide all the ways that people are going to use this technology."
From Dewey Decimal to Digital Downloads
2005: The Illinois Heartland Library System launches MyMediaMall, a service that lets users download ebooks, audiobooks and some videos. The catalog has since grown to about 10,000 titles. The drawback is that your device will require special software to view content.
Available at: All Illinois Heartland Library System libraries
2012: The Champaign Public Library launches Zinio with about 200 titles of popular magazines. Users can check out magazines with no due dates and no limits on how many people can view an issue at any particular time. Pages are displayed just like the print version and sometimes have supplementary audio or video features.
Also available at: The Urbana Free Library
2013: Champaign launches Hoopla, a service that lets users stream movies and music with a very Netflix-like experience. Music titles are up-to-date, but the movies are not always as fresh. The library pays for the content on a per-checkout basis.
Also available at: The Danville Public Library
2014: Champaign announces the 3M Cloud Library, its first service fully integrated with the library catalog. It only has about 400 titles right now, but that will grow. On most devices, users will not need special software and they'll see the 3M logo in the library catalog to know that it's available electronically.
Help is available: Instructions on how to use all of the digital services are available at http://www.champaign.org/downloadables.html.