Library embracing technology, electronic reading 

New Zinio magazine subscriptions, 24-hour Wi-fi

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They're going to call it a "high-tech petting zoo" — a table laid out with the latest tablets and e-readers that let people try out the technology and library staff to show people how to use them to take advantage of the Whistler Public Library's online resources.

"In an effort to keep the staff trained on ebooks, we purchased two Kobos, a Kindle, an iPad, an iPod Touch for everybody to practice on," explained Nadine White, the public services librarian. "If we don't know how to do all this stuff ourselves, how can we teach our users? That's when we came up with the idea of the 'high-tech petting zoo,' creating a table somewhere where we can put all of these devices and try them out."

Elizabeth Tracy, the library director, says e-readers are becoming mainstream

"It's transformational technology, and it's not just a next-generation thing. For example, we're getting a lot of people over the age of 50 (with e-readers)," she said. "They're getting these kinds of high-tech gifts for Christmas and they want to learn how to use them. For us, that means we need to be familiar with everything that's out there at least a little bit, and our staff now does tech training whenever we get something new. I think before we would learn things on the fly or rely on people to show us, but there's so much out there and it's hard to keep up. Now we have every kind of tablet we can practice on it first."

The "petting zoo" is still in the works, but the library's new focus on technology is evolving with the technology itself. For example, not many people know that in July the library became one of the first public libraries in B.C. to offer digital magazine subscriptions to members through Zinio. They can read from a collection of magazines online or download apps so they can take magazines with them.

So far they have 46 subscribers taking out 333 online subscriptions, but the goal is to triple numbers in the next few months by getting the word out.

As well, the library has offered ebooks and downloadable audiobooks for several years through the British Columbia Libraries' Library to Go program and OneClickDigital. There are a limited number of digital copies available, but you can search for them the same way you do books and other library materials and place a hold on titles you want to read.

A lot of the library's high-tech aspirations circle around another technology, the new self-checkout stations that were introduced when Whistler's new library opened its doors in 2008. Too many people are still bringing their books up to the front desk, said White, which is keeping staff occupied.

"Right now the self checks are still underutilized," she said. "It would be great to have people using it more because it would alleviate staff time for more productive things, like helping people learn how to use library service or to recommend books or help with research — generally be more responsive to what people want."

On of the library's biggest draws is the computer lab, which includes 12 workstations that are busy from opening to close. There are also two computers in the children's section and two in the youth section.

They've streamlined the process of booking the computers by switching to a code system where you no longer need a library card to get a computer for an hour, and one of the goals in the future is to add two more "express" stations to the library that are only open for 15 minute blocks.

There's free Wi-Fi in the library, and as of this summer, in the area outside the front doors as well.

"There's a greater acceptance of the fact that this technology is part of the core services offered by the library just as much as books," said Tracy.

Previously they used to turn off the Wi-Fi when the library was closed because there were concerns that people would assemble around the front doors after hours to log on to the Internet. The library has since reconsidered, and is happy to see that people outside using the service 24 hours a day. Because of weather, the library is even considering opening the foyer to people for extended hours while the library is closed so people can be warm.

"It's pretty low impact for us to be able to do that, and it would give people easier access," said Tracy.

—This is the second part of a three-part library series. Next week: Library programming.

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