More Than Books – Libraries & the Digital Age

Part 3 in a multi-part series…chronicles of a LeeGROWS participant

Week 1 – Part 3:

The first thing I noticed about the Lakes Regional Library was the entrance. An arching circular drive for dropping people off in the rain, beautiful landscaping, and the big metal sculpture-like sign out front that says simply “Library”. It felt fancier than other libraries I’d been to – more aesthetically pleasing. As we entered the building we were escorted to a meeting room off to the left, and I was surprised to see a raised stage, complete with black curtains as part of the room. It was a small stage, but it was a stage. How cool – a place where performances could be held – right here in the public library.

Sheldon Kaye, Lee County’s Library Director since 2006 explained that the Lakes Regional Library was the busiest of the 13 branches, circulating about 1,000,000 items each year. It’s also the most centrally located branch, which might explain why so many meetings are held there. I’ve been invited to attend three meetings in that location just in the past month. Of the 13 Lee County branches, there are six regional libraries (which are larger and also house technical and support departments like materials processing and talking books), two medium-sized libraries, and five smaller community branches – all staffed by 249 employees – to serve the 600,000 people of Lee County.

Sheldon Kaye showing a map of the 13 branches of the Lee County library system

A new downtown Fort Myers branch library is being planned for a 2012 opening, and according to Kaye not one person asked the question “why should we invest in physical library buildings and materials in the age of digitization when so much can be found online?” His answer: “Because the public library brings more people to downtown Fort Myers than anything else.” And that’s a business owners dream come true.

Lee County’s libraries are visited by 500,000 people a year  and  that number is growing, even as budgets, personnel, and services get cut. They  provide  a multitude of programs, education, entertainment, information, even a place for getting help preparing your income taxes. The library also offers “free services for those with medical, physical or visual limitations, as well as literacy programs, multilingual programs and Bookmobile Service”. You can borrow any of the 1.6 million items – books, music CDs, videos on DVD, audiobooks on CD –  and you can download ebooks, audiobooks, and some videos through the Download Depot. Over 40% of circulation is audio/visual material and that percentage is increasing daily.

The biggest trend Kaye is seeing right now is toward downloading books and information to mobile devices. The library system’s ebooks are currently compatible with Sony’s eReader, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and Borders Kobo devices, but not the Amazon Kindle. They are working on developing an app for the iPad.

The system is always working to improve the digital branch of the library to keep up with the times and provide online services to Lee County citizens as evident in its new website with a really cool interactive page for teens. In times of tight budgets and scarce dollars, public libraries become more important than ever to citizens who turn there for free use of materials, computers, and information. This is one tax expenditure worth keeping .

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LeeGROWS is an initiative started by the Lee County, FL government in 1988 as a way “to inform the citizens about the day-to-day operations of county government“.

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Coming next: Fact and Fiction in the Morgue

2 thoughts on “More Than Books – Libraries & the Digital Age

  1. The libraries are always great places to go…I have a special love for them…my grandfather used to spend his Saturdays in the public library reading…He passed that down to my mom who passed it to me, and I am passing it down to my kids…I think Lee County does a wonderful job running and maintaining our libraries…I wish more people used them.

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