County library system embracing innovation to attract patrons

Monday, April 30, 2012
Gloria Pender of Oak Ridge looks for a book Friday at the Riverside Regional Library in Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

Visitors walked through the doors of the Riverside Regional Library system more than a quarter-million times last year and its director is striving to keep that number growing with new technology and programs to attract people of all ages.

The Cape Girardeau County library in Jackson is the headquarters for the six facilities across Cape Girardeau, Scott and Perry counties that make up the system. In addition to the Jackson location, there are regional libraries in Perryville, Mo., Altenburg, Mo., Scott City, Benton, Mo., and Oran, Mo.

The system began as a Women's Extension Clubs bookmobile project in the early 1950s. The positive response to having books available in rural stores, post offices, homes and existing libraries led to a 1955 ballot measure to create county libraries that passed nearly two to one. To save costs, the county sites were combined into a regional system that shared an initial gift of 7,000 used books from the state library.

These days, the system's collection is approaching 200,000 books and audiovisual items and director Nancy Howland is looking to add to that by expanding into digital media.

Howland hopes to have a system online by the end of June that will allow library card holders to download e-books to their e-reader devices by visiting the library or from home through the library website.

Patrons will be able to borrow up to two e-books for a maximum of three weeks. Unlike printed books, they will simply disappear from the reader at the end of the lending period, so there will be no late fees.

When Howland presented the annual budget to the county earlier this month, she was asked by the commission if she expects one day for all traditional books to be replaced by electronic media.

Howland said the notion sent shivers down her spine, but that incorporation of e-books is inevitable.

"Public librarians have known that electronic media ... will certainly be another container for information, just like a book is a container for information," she said Friday.

The library has selected the recently-launched 3M Cloud Library as its digital provider. The service is compatible with PC, Mac and iPad personal computers as well as Nook e-readers and Android smartphones. Howland said that 3M in negotiations with Amazon to add its Kindle devices to that list.

The 3M Cloud Library was selected over other options based on ease of use for borrowers and economics, Howland said. Books purchased by the library will become its property permanently, versus other systems which require ongoing subscription to maintain ownership of materials.

Digital media is just the latest innovation the library has undertaken to improve its services. In 2011, wireless Internet was installed in all six regional sites. Patrons without their own systems can use public computers to access the Internet, one of the most popular features of the library.

Less known about are the subscription databases available that cardholders can access on site or from home. An extensive number of services are available, such as online versions of auto repair manuals, travel guides, academic research databases, practice tests for students and foreign language training programs.

Whether using electronic methods or traditional ones, the aim of the library is what it has always been -- to foster and support a love of reading. Its popular summer reading program in June and July is designed to motivate children, teens and adults to pick up a book.

Reading during the summer is essential for maintaining the skills built during the school year, Howland said. The library particularly strives to include children as they become teenagers, when their involvement with the library often decreases. If they can remain engaged, she said, they are more likely to keep reading in adulthood. Incentives donated by the community reward the efforts of program participants and the library staff works to encourage whatever interest a reader would like to explore.

"As long as they are reading, we think that is the important thing," Howland said. "The community support has just been phenomenal in this area."

Among those supporters are Friends of the Library volunteer groups. Howland said Friends groups, active in all but the Altenburg branch, raise money through book and bake sales to fund critical programs.

Main funding for the library still comes from tax dollars according to the measure passed 57 years ago, but the percentage is now slightly lower than the 10 cents per $100 tax valuation set by voters. Rates set by the state auditor in 2011 translated into a total of just over $980,000 for the system.

Howland said she aims to use those funds to create programs and maintain materials that are current, relevant and useful to visitors and she encourages people to visit the friendly staff at their local library.

Library cards are available free of charge to county residents in Cape Girardeau, Scott and Perry counties, as well as to the Missouri counties that adjoin them.

For more information about the library system, visit www.riversideregionallibrary.org or call the main branch in Jackson at 243-8141.

salderman@semissourian.com

388-3648

Pertinent addresses:

1997 E. Jackson Blvd., Jackson, MO.

800 City Park Dr., Suite A, Perryville, MO

66 Poplar St., Altenburg, MO

2106 Main St., Scott City, MO

N. 54 Winchester, Benton, MO

120 Mountain St., Oran, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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