Libraries and technology go together

There is a consensus right now that the reading culture, at least in terms of reading a book, is in decline. And with it, the library culture, whereby people go to libraries to read leisurely, is also losing popularity. With that in mind, library administrators all around are trying to find ways to adapt to a world drowning in technological developments. Topeka Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) and Mabee library have found their answer in digital media streaming services. TSCPL has acquired Hoopla’s service while Mabee is offering Kanopy as an aid.

The addition of both services is a recent development in the history of both TSCPL and Mabee; TSCPL started providing Hoopla in August of 2013 and Mabee did the same with Kanopy in the fall of 2016. Both services are free to card holders of the respective institution. Any resident of Topeka or Shawnee County can get a library card for free. All Washburn students can use their Washburn ID for Mabee library. Both libraries, by equipping themselves with such services, are addressing the question about how we learn and the role of libraries in that.

Scarlett Fisher-Herreman, technical services supervisor at TSCPL, and Angela Beatie, librarian at Mabee, both see this as a positive development. They both approved the convenience of digital media platforms that entertain and educate simultaneously. “With Hoopla, users can check out any piece of media in their own time from the comfort of their homes. There is also no waitlist that you have in traditional libraries. Items also don’t run out like that in libraries,” said Fisher-Herreman. Hoopla allows users to checkout or “download” ten items every month, and the audience can select from a range of options from eBooks to first-rate movies. Beatie mentioned the pleasant surprise from students who used Kanopy and found it user-friendly.

Hoopla saw 19,296 users last year. The most popular format was the audiobook. Users found its portability useful, as they could listen to the books on a long drive or any time when their only option was to listen. “People also liked Hoopla’s comic book collection,” said Fisher-Herreman. The convenience factor played a big hand in increasing the users.

Beatie also lauded the accessibility of the service. The videos on Kanopy—more curated for academia with an extensive catalog of lectures and documentaries—don’t quite touch the esoteric level of books. They are more accessible. And, for Beatie, who sees a general decline in reading among college students, that doesn’t warrant too much complaint. The accessibility of the videos means that students who aren’t engaged much in academic endeavors are introduced to the discourse in other ways. “We have to meet them halfway and get them involved in the important conversations,” said Beatie. “Some people are visual learners, and Kanopy is a great resource for them.

All this brings into question the place of libraries in a society filled with multiple online resources that essentially do the libraries’ functions albeit not completely. However, Beatie and Fisher-Herreman both believe that, while being a repository of books and scholarly resources, libraries also function as a great community space. “Everyone is welcome here,” said Beatie. TSCPL, for example, has a children’s room where at various times during the day, parents can be seen reading to their children and giving parenting advice to each other. Libraries also have genial library staff that can provide the personal touch missing in digital platforms. “There are only so many things on Hoopla,” said Fisher-Herreman. “Hoopla doesn’t listen to customer requests like we do.  If a customer asks us to buy a book, we do it. Hoopla isn’t like that.”    

Both TSCPL and Mabee also organize various activities and programs that encourage people to pay a visit. TSCPL, for example, is organizing a program entitled “Master Gardeners library series”, through which librarians, in collaboration with the horticulture experts at Master Gardeners, will teach participants about fall plants and plants’ role in community development. At times, the library also partners with the zoo to teach children about non-dangerous, small animals.

Mabee library has an open access week coming up, where they spread information about open-access services like Kanopy. This year, the library staff are planning to promote Academic Video Online, a video platform solely usable for academic purposes.   

Efforts like these from both libraries have strengthened and stamped their relevancy in a technologically-saturated time. Hoopla and Kanopy are augmenting the library experience and redefining what it means to learn.