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North County libraries go digital

There’s even a tutoring program — HelpNow from Brainfuse — in which students can get personal live online assistance.

North County libraries go digital

by Phil Diehl, The San Diego Union-Tribune

— Libraries are no longer solitary places where introverted, bespectacled individuals roam tall stacks of books.

Instead, they’ve become community centers where people of all ages go not just to borrow books and read magazines, but to meet other patrons, share cultural activities and connect to the Internet.

As part of this trend, Carlsbad announced last week it will spend $11 million at its two main libraries to improve wireless access, add power outlets, expand seating and meeting areas, and add collaborative study rooms.

“Libraries have increasingly become simply a gathering place for the exchange of information and material,” said Heather Pizzuto, Carlsbad’s library and cultural arts director. “A library is no longer designed for individual use in isolation.”

Digital services are changing libraries everywhere.

“Most of our public, civic conversation is now done on (the) information superhighway,” said San Diego County Library Director Jose Aponte. “The trend in the last 10 years has been wireless access to the Internet.”

The county operates more than 30 public libraries in communities including Encinitas, Vista, San Marcos and Valley Center.

“All of our buildings have Wi-Fi access,” Aponte said, and — because it continues around the clock — in some communities people will sit in their cars or stand outside the libraries after hours to use the free service.

City-run libraries in Carlsbad and Escondido are also embracing the digital age.

Escondido libraries have been helping people get on the Internet for about a decade and free service “is very popular,” said Joanna Axelrod, Escondido’s senior librarian of technology and support services.

“Our Wifi is pretty strong, so we often have people sitting outside to use it, even before we’re open or after, or when it’s just a nice day outside,” she said. “More power to them — it’s what we’re here for.”

Digital services booming

Like most libraries in San Diego County, Escondido also loans electronic books, audio recordings and magazines.

“It’s been really successful,” Axelrod said. “We’ve seen the circulation (of electronic material) increase month after month.”

Since Escondido began offering electronic books and audio recordings in 2011, she said, the city’s libraries have had more than 239,000 digital checkouts. And so far this year, since Jan. 1, the library has had 2,000 new users register to download free material.

The Escondido library, through its website, also offers free specialized online databases for business owners, car enthusiasts and others. There’s even a tutoring program — HelpNow from Brainfuse — in which students can get personal live online assistance from a certified teacher from 1 to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Oceanside libraries also have provided free wireless Internet access for years.

The city upgraded the wireless access at its libraries, parks and recreation facilities and senior center in 2014, said Oceanside Library Director Sherri Cosby.

Online materials are a growing part of Oceanside’s library services, she said.

“We are seeing the popularity of the e-books grow year after year,” Cosby said. “We are dedicating more of our budget to that.”

The demand for digital services is also growing in Oceanside, she said.

“We are doing the best we can to meet that demand,” Cosby said. “And I don’t see that demand going away, or the demand for printed books… or the need for community meeting space. It’s just a matter of using the resources the best way we can.”

Countywide the circulation of downloadable media is increasing at a rapid pace, said Aponte.

“It’s the equivalent to one branch library,” Aponte said. “Out of the 33 branches, if it was a branch, it would be the 10th busiest branch.”

The county’s downloadable media circulation increased 61 percent from 2011 to 2012, 63 percent from 2012 to 2013, and 55 percent from 2013 to 2014, he said.

“It is the largest area of growth,” Aponte said.

Carlsbad work to begin this fall

Carlsbad residents will begin seeing the latest $11 million investment in their libraries in the fall after the regular summer programs conclude.

The city’s Cole library, which is 48 years old, needs the most work and will be tackled first.

The Cole renovations will open up the building’s cramped interior to maximize the available space and make other improvements possible, Pizzuto said. During much of that work the library will be closed and many of the materials there will be moved to other locations.

Work at Carlsbad’s 16-year-old Dove library is expected to begin early next year after the Cole renovations are finished.

Efforts at the Dove complex will include a remodeling the Ruby G. Schulman Auditorium to improve access for disabled patrons, create better visibility to the stage, and upgrade the audiovisual equipment to digital technology.

Carlsbad libraries have about 106,000 registered borrowers and get about 60,000 visitors a month, Pizzuto said. Those numbers have remained about the same for the last five years.

What’s changing is the increasing reliance on digital material, she said.

Carlsbad has been offering e-books for about five years now, Pizzuto said.

E-books can be downloaded to a patron’s tablet, laptop or other device and will be available for two weeks before they expire and disappear. Magazines downloaded from the library have no expiration and will on a device as long as the patron likes.

“Digital formats have been growing,” Pizzuto said. “We continue to explore new formats all the time… with regard to the comfort level of patrons.”

Still, not everyone wants to read books and magazines in a digital format, she said.

In the research for its redesign, Pizzuto said, the library consulted with 24 teenagers who encouraged the designers to keep space for print materials.

Most people want a mixture of digital services and things printed on paper, she said.

“I’m always going to go to a print novel because I enjoy that experience,” she said. “But I’m going to read most of my professional material online.”