- Associated Press - Sunday, October 3, 2010

GRANDVIEW HEIGHTS, Ohio | Libraries are tweeting, texting and launching smart-phone apps as they try to keep up with the biblio-techs — a computer-savvy class of people who consider card catalogs as vintage as typewriters. And they seem to be pulling it off.

Since libraries started rebranding themselves for the iPod generation, thousands of music geeks have downloaded free songs from library websites. And with many more bookworms waiting months to check out wireless reading devices, libraries are shrugging off the notion that the Internet shelved them alongside dusty books.

“People tend to have this antiquated version of libraries, like there’s not much more inside than books and microfiche,” said Hiller Goodspeed, a 22-year-old graphic designer in Orlando, Fla., who uses the Orange County Library System’s iPhone app to discover foreign films.

The latest national data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services show that library visits and circulation climbed nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2008.

Since then, experts say, technology has continued to drive in-person visits, circulation and usage.

“It also brings people back to the library that might have left thinking that the library wasn’t relevant for them,” said Chris Tonjes, information technology director at the public library in Washington, D.C.

Public library systems have provided free Internet access and loaned movies and music for years. They have a good record of syncing up with past technological advances, from vinyl to VHS.

“They’ve always had competition,” said Roger Levien, a strategy consultant in Stamford, Conn., who also serves as an American Library Association fellow. “Bookstores have existed in the past. I’m sure they will find ways to adapt.”

Now, the digital sphere is expanding: 82 percent of the nation’s more than 16,000 public libraries have Wi-Fi — up from 37 percent four years ago, according to the American Library Association.

Since the recession hit, more people are turning to libraries to surf the Web and try out digital gadgets.

In Princeton, N.J., dozens people are waiting to borrow Kindles, a wireless reading device.

Roya Karimian, 32, flipped through the preloaded e-pages of “Little Women” after two months on the waiting list. “I had already read it, but I wanted to experience reading it on the Kindle,” she said.

A growing number of libraries are launching mobile websites and smart-phone applications, said Jason Griffey, author of “Mobile Technology and Libraries.” No one keeps tabs of exactly how many, but a recent iPhone app search showed at least a dozen public libraries.

The Grandview Heights Public Library in suburban Columbus, Ohio, spent $4,500 — a third of what the library spent on CDs — to give patrons access to songs by artists from Beyonce to Merle Haggard using a music-downloading service called Freegal.

Online services point to technology as a cheaper means to boost circulation.

The Cuyahoga County Public Library near Cleveland laid off 41 employees and cut back on hours after its budget shrank by $10 million. But it still maintains a Twitter account and texts patrons when items are about to become overdue.

As more libraries log on to social media, their lexicon is changing, replacing “Shh!” with “LOL.” In Florida, the Orange County library’s Twitter feed sounds more like a frat boy than a librarian: “There’s more to OCLS than just being really, really ridiculously good looking. We created an App!”

Crops of social networking sites are popping up specifically for bookworms — electronic or otherwise — and library junkies.

Jennifer Reeder, a 35-year-old mother of two in suburban Phoenix, tracks her reading stats on Goodreads.com: 12,431 pages so far this year — most of them in library books.

“When I was growing up, I always felt like a library was where I was supposed to go and like do homework,” she said.

Now, it’s where she checks out audio books for her kids’ iPods and satisfies her addiction to iTunes with free downloads of songs by Pink and the cast of “Glee.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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