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Demand for digital content grows at Richmond Public Library

Greg Buss, Richmond’s chief librarian, and Pay Watson, chair of the library board, speak to city council Monday night.  - Matthew Hoekstra photo
Greg Buss, Richmond’s chief librarian, and Pay Watson, chair of the library board, speak to city council Monday night.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

An increasing amount of Richmond Public Library’s budget is funding digital content, as demand for ebooks continues to rise, city council heard Monday.

“More and more people want the online version, they want the ebooks,” said Greg Buss, chief librarian. “People sometimes think that an ebook is less expensive, and sometimes it is, but more often than not it’s more expensive than a hardcover.”

Richmond library board officials presented their annual report to council Monday, telling councillors about the changing role of the library, which has dramatically boosted its online content. Besides books, library users can now download music, magazines, newspapers and language lessons from the library’s website.

Buss said, however, the library’s ebook selection is limited because publishers aren’t keen on selling material to libraries.

“They still haven’t figured out their business model. I think the fear is the library gets a copy, then they’re not going to be selling their own individual copies and profits will suffer,” said Buss. “Libraries across Canada are really working on that. We’re trying to build relationships with publishers to encourage them to sell to the libraries because certainly our users want those books.”

Library board chair Pat Watson said by offering access to electronic devices, the library aims to “bridge the digital divide” for those who can’t afford the technology. Yet despite the rising interest in digital content, Watson noted traditional books and materials remain popular.

“Reading may take place on an e-reader or smart phone these days, but there’s still huge numbers of people in our community who prefer to read hard copy books.”

Technology is changing the library role from a provider of information to a place where ideas are exchanged, Watson noted. Last year 124,030 people attended 2,590 library programs—everything from preparing tax returns and making crafts to children’s story time and new immigrant information. Library officials are in the midst of selecting consultant to draft a long-range plan for the library, a plan that’s scheduled to be complete in late 2013 and expected to lean heavily on the public for input.

Coun. Derek Dang asked whether an increasing emphasis on digital technology means the library will have less demand for space in the future. Buss said while there may be less of a need for bookshelves in the future, space is still needed to accommodate technology, programs and study areas.

Said Buss: “As we go through that public consultation, this is one of the key questions we have to ask. The public’s going to have to kind of wrestle with that one and give us their answer.”

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