Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Children's Picture Book Apps Are Not a Part of the Public Library's Story -- Yet

As more e-readers are getting into the hands (and under the tapping fingers) of young readers, picture book apps are gaining a wider audience. But not at the public libraries. To understand a bit more about why, dotMomming reached out to Chicago Public Library Youth Materials Specialist Andrew Medlar. This is the last in a series of posts in our conversation about digital books.

"Apps of all types are a significant consideration in our latest Strategic Plan," Medlar says, "and for the book/media industry at large. We can only offer our communities that which is available in the first place, and many of the great sessions and discussions at this summer’s BookExpo America and American Library Association conferences focused on apps and the fact that while they are exciting, and many are fabulous, no one has yet figured out how to make them able to be checked out through libraries."

Among the library's hurdles is that some of the major publishing houses are resistant to making their titles available to public libraries for e-book lending.

"Several major American houses still won’t even allow libraries to buy their e-book titles even though that technology is readily available—and so the logistics of app circulation simply haven’t been satisfactorily developed," Medlar says.

And while it's the publishing houses dragging their feet, some perceive public libraries to be the staid institutions clinging to the paper era. But that's certainly not the case in Chicago, where the Chicago Public Library's flagship Harold Washington Library is leading the way with its teen-centric YOUmedia space. Through YOUmedia, teens turn to the library to check out tools ranging from digital cameras to laptops, and to collaborate and create with new media.

"The Library is always evolving in how we support Chicagoans in new ways of reading, learning and discovering," Medlar says, "and this is a key area of strength in our past, present and future Strategic Plans.

"The expansion of YOUmedia from its internationally renowned success at the Harold Washington Library Center into more neighborhoods across the City is a prime example. The role of the public library has always been to provide access to information – the ways in which patrons now demand that information has changed (and is constantly changing), so it libraries are adapting to those new formats."

It's an exciting time for libraries as they make the changes necessary to stay relevant in a digital age. And I imagine that doing so under anemic budgets is all the more challenging. So whether it's a book in paper form or electronic, the library is working hard to satisfy the demands of a changing audience.

"Content trumps format, and reading, in any way, shape or form, is a positive, educational, fun, and lifelong activity," Medlar says. "As far as the physical form of the text, for young people it’s not an either/or proposition; they move back and forth between e-books and p-books without a problem."

"Let’s just give them the freedom to pick from all of the great stories out there in the world, however they’re told."

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