The Ottumwa Courier

January 15, 2014

More than paper

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Even residents who are not checking out a book are stopping at the Ottumwa Public Library.

Though people don't need a library card just to visit the local branch, one is needed to access most services. Library Director Sonja Ferrell said there are 24,030 card holders.

She knows this because she's in the process of writing up the entity's 2013 Annual Report, which was completed as of the end of December. So far, the trend has been that the high-tech offerings are growing.

For example, under "people using public computers," the number is 24,387.

"With our latest renovations, we have about 14 computers available to the public," Ferrell said Wednesday. "Use went up compared to last year."

It could be because there are more computers, there can be more patrons on at one time. Perhaps more people are interested in finding out what Facebook is all about, or just more people know how to use the Internet. But Ferrell has seen a different set of circumstances.

"Everything is so much dependent on the Internet now. Even people who don't want to go online may have to," she said. "For example, the [IRS] no longer prints out all its tax forms; you have to go online. A [help wanted] ad for a job opening may say you don't need computer knowledge to do the job — but to get the job, you have to apply online. And with the new healthcare law, you have to have an email address. People may not have gone that far before, so we'll help them sign up for email."

Staff members get frequent requests for a tutorial on getting online. Some patrons require more instruction than others. Other patrons are bringing their own device with them to the library. Ferrell joked that with Christmas over, the kids and grandkids head home while the parents who received Kindle book devices for the holidays are left trying to figure out how to use them.

The good news is, whether on their own or with help from an Ottumwa Public Library associate, they are learning.

"Our WILBOR program [makes us] part of a consortium of libraries for downloadable ebooks and audio books; it's essentially an online library," Ferrell said.

In 2013, electronic reader users checked out 4,749 items to read in the living room, at The Beach Ottumwa or while waiting in the car for the little ones to get out of school.

"That's more than doubled from our first year that we had it," said Ferrell.

The co-op of libraries purchases a "book" from the publisher, usually at a higher price than an individual would pay. That's because book sellers know one or two people might read a book bought at the store, where a hundred people may read the version in the library.

Just not all at once.

"They check it out, like an online library, then it automatically goes away after two weeks. If no one else checks it out, you can check it out again. Some people don't understand that when a publisher sells [a copy] to us, only one person can read it at a time. And there are still some publishers who don't put out ebooks. Once you think you're on top of all this, a policy changes."

Don't think the free to read emagazines are covered by the same policy, either.

"Everything is opposite on magazines," Ferrell said. "It's not done on a first-come first-serve basis. They want the most people they can looking at their magazines, because they're looking at the ads."

— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark