‘It’s not just about books anymore’

PLYMOUTH — What’s changed in the last 100 years at the library? The resounding answer is “technology.”
Plymouth Public Library is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and director Susie Reinholt along with long-time librarians Debbie Beck and Linda Hindman recently gathered to share some thoughts about the future of the library.
Though all agreed that they can’t see a time when books are obsolete, the three women said that people’s needs for the library have changed significantly as technology advances.
“Our first computer (at the library) was an Apple II with a black screen and gold lettering,” recalled Hindman. “There were about two people who knew how to use the internet. They would come in and we would watch them and wonder what they were doing.”
The library kept people’s computer needs in mind through several remodels and built the computer room as it is today in 1995. The basement computer lab was added through a donation of 17 computers from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2001.
“That was a surprise — it didn’t cost us a penny (to add the lab),” said Reinholt.
Another big change came with the addition of wi-fi about 10 years ago.
“People expect to have wi-fi available everywhere they go now,” pointed out Beck.
Beck, who is in charge of the Young Adult section of the library, noted that about 75 more power outlets had to be added over the past couple of years because students were bringing in their school-issued laptops.
“We had cords running across halls (to reach outlets) and we noticed that didn’t work very well,” said Beck.
The library has also brought in more tables and desks for people doing computer work.
Reinholt noted that libraries are being used more and more as meeting spaces.
“Space is always needed, but for different reasons,” said Reinholt.
Instead of finding space for more bookshelves, the library is now focusing on providing space for people to meet. Whether it’s a study group, a student doing research, or a tutoring session, the library now has many available spaces to work.
They’ve even broken the age-old rule of not eating and drinking at the library — snacking is permitted in the Fireplace Room, conveniently adjacent to a few indoor vending machines.
“(The library) is not just about books anymore,” said Hindman. “It’s about the services we provide.”
The newest technology advancement at the library is the addition of e-books. Library patrons can check out e-books through the Indiana Digital Download Center from the comfort of home — as long as they have a Plymouth Public Library card.
“We’ve seen book circulation drop, but the balance is that (the use of) e-books is increasing,” said Reinholt.
Library staff is dedicated to help patrons learn how to check out electronic books. They are currently teaching themselves how to use several popular e-readers like the Kindle Fire, iPad, and Sony Reader. Hindman has even created “cheat sheets” to hand out to patrons.
“I still hear so many people say, ‘I like to hold a book in my hands,’” said Reinholt.
Beck said that she feels the next technology change at the library will involve streaming movies instead of DVD rentals.
“We are just now seeing libraries look at streaming possibilities,” said Beck, adding that to offer something like that Plymouth Public Library would probably have to join a group of other libraries, similar to the e-book service.
“It will take us a while to get to that but you can see it coming,” said Beck. “We have seen DVD check-outs drop, because people can sit at home and (stream movies online).”
There are 28 employees at the Plymouth Public Library, along with many volunteers. All work together to keep things running smoothly for patrons, whether that means finding a book or learning how to download a digital book.
Beck said, “The library has done an amazing job of continuing to provide information for people in different ways.”