Turning the page on libraries

As technology, reading habits, finances evolve, so do public libraries
2011-06-12T00:00:00Z 2011-10-03T23:00:09Z Turning the page on librariesBy Jeff Burton jeff.burton@nwi.com, (219) 548-4354 nwitimes.com

There was a time when public libraries were simply silent, cavernous spaces with seemingly endless rows of books -- but that day is gone.

"Right now, we're seeing more and more requests for the e-readers," said Jim Cline, director of the Porter County Public Library system.

Like many of the region's libraries, the Porter County system's collection has evolved over the years, Cline said. While reference, fiction and non-fiction books still line the walls of branches, directors and boards have always had to keep emerging trends in their sights to make the institutions viable and relevant, responding to the needs of residents. And technology, Cline said, has played a key role.

In the fall, the five-branch system in Porter County is set to roll out an e-reader program, featuring a variety of titles that can be temporarily downloaded onto an electronic tablet device.

Lake County Public Library offers its cardholders downloadable e-books and audio books and now music from Sony's library.

Lynn Frank, director of the Crown Point Community Library, said while she's received a few requests for the downloadable titles, the needs of her growing community are a little more simple: space.

Frank said with a number of the library's programs seeing record use, space was becoming a serious issue for the district's main library.

She said programs like story time for young children, are exceptionally popular, and library staff has had to implement an advance registration policy for parents and tykes because while the demand is great, their space is exceptionally limited.

Frank said that's one of the issues that will hopefully be resolved when the district's new main library is completed in January 2013.

"We're looking forward to having a much larger area," she said.

Library board members broke ground earlier this month on the $12 million building several blocks north of the library's current building. With 46,750 square feet, Frank said the new building will not only have a larger space for their children's programs, but also designated spaces for teens as well as quiet reading areas.

Technology will also have a prominent space in the library, Frank said, as plans include an Internet cafe, where patrons can use their laptops in a quiet, comfortable setting and even enjoy a cup of coffee.

"We have a number of people who regularly bring their computers in the library and they're looking for a place to log on," Frank said.

While Crown Point moves to construct its expansive new facility, Cline said there aren't any current plans to expand in Porter County, though the library system does own land in Porter and Jackson townships.

"With the tax caps in place, it cuts into our revenue," he said. "We have capital projects dollars, and we could probably build the buildings, but it doesn't make sense to me to build a building and not have any money to hire anyone to staff it."

Declining revenues have also had serious effects on other library systems.

In March, faced with a mounting budget deficit, Gary Public Library trustees decided to close the city's central library in the 200 block of West Fifth Avenue, as well as the Tolleston branch in the 1100 block of Taft Street

Both libraries are set to permanently close at the end of this year, though the system's neighborhood branches will remain open to serve residents.

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