Wharton: Libraries in the digital age
Published: April 11, 2013 12:11PM
Updated: April 11, 2013 12:10PM
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Paul Fraughton | The Salt Lake Tribune The north side entrance to the new West Jordan Library and Events Center.

West Jordan • Libraries, like newspapers, have struggled adapting to the quick-changing digital world.

That is one of the main reasons I let my library card expire years ago. While my grandkids love and use libraries, I figured I could find most everything from the comfort of my own home computer or by using my iPhone, Kindle or iPad on the go.

Thus I was intrigued when Liesel Seborg, senior librarian and adult outreach and program specialist for Salt Lake County, responded to a recent column musing. I wondered in print how difficult it might be to download an eBook from a public library.

She responded with a note telling me how. This turned out to be quite a process complicated by my general digital incompetence and the fact that my first-generation Kindle does not use WiFi. The end result, though, was that Seborg kindly invited me to visit the fantastic West Jordan library not far from my home. This airy, inviting facility adjacent to a large playground and city park is less than a year old and offers things such as a teen room, outside amphitheater, indoor community space, places inside and out to read and a number of modern digital devices.

Branch manager Susan Spicer said this library alone distributes 85,000 items a month, hosts 4,000 computer sessions in an average month on its 22 adult, six teen and four children computers and draws 22,000 visitors a month, including 2,500 who come for special programs.

Salt Lake County’s 18 branches have material holdings of 2,086,831 items, hosted 63,980 computer sessions in February and had a February distribution of 1,168,997 items, 74,831 that were digital products.

Seborg explained that while some libraries across the country struggle because people can find what they need online instead of using library research facilities, librarians are adapting to the realities of a digital world.

“Some people don’t have the ability to search and don’t know how to use databases or the Internet,” she said. “The library offers help in navigating the digital world.”

That might come in the Salt Lake County Library Community Access to Technology program, where patrons can take classes to learn simple computer tasks all the way up to highly sophisticated programs.

“Digitally, we have a lot to offer,” Seborg said. “We have resources for business people as well as student and entertainment resources. We have downloadable books, audio books and music. We have language learning databases and a huge group of reference materials. We have the largest eBook collection in a public library for the state.”

In addition, libraries throughout the valley offer special events on almost a daily basis for children, teens, adults and families. For example, my 14-year-old granddaughter recently visited and I planned on taking her to a special Spy Hop Productions event where she might learn to make a movie or how to record a song. Library facilities host plays, movie screenings, community events and concerts. These are usually free.

Librarians also staff a help desk to answer all sorts of research or digital questions via email or in person.

That isn’t to say that the traditional things most of us grew up using at libraries aren’t available. These include books, magazines, newspapers, CDs and DVDs that can be checked out or enjoyed on site.

Seborg showed me how easy it was to get a free library card, a process that took me less than five minutes and only required a driver’s license or some other form of identification.

With help from both the library staff and my Tribune buddy Vince Horiuchi, I finally downloaded an eBook.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter @tribtomwharton