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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

eMagazines in the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 30, 2014

Times are a-changin’ in the library world, and it is an exciting time to experience the impact of technology on the information resources that a library can provide to the public.


Once a year, a public library gathers our magazine renewals (including new titles and those which have disappeared from the publishing industry) and sends the subscription requests to a central jobber for a discounted price for the following year.


This process has not changed since our library was formed in 1902.  In the early fall of 1901, the librarian gathered together her list of magazines to have on-hand when the library opened and paid the invoice for $ 142.08 for the 1902 list.


Nothing has changed in that process, except for the price, which is today more than $ 10,000 for our magazine subscriptions.


Well, times are a-changin’ with the technology and popularity of eBooks, and now eMagazines.


Our library system offers over 175,000 eBooks for the public to checkout, just like the familiar paper books.


Beginning in 2015 we will be offering eMagazines to either browse in one of our libraries, or checkout on your electronic device to read at home.


Just like eBooks, eMagazines are checked out and return themselves after the specified period of time.


It would be interesting to tell this story to Ellen Summers Wilson, the librarian from 1902.  “Miss Wilson, these 42 magazine titles are available and as many as 500 people can check out the one magazine at the same time and they return themselves through the cloud.”


I am sure that Miss Wilson’s pencil which was likely inserted into the bun of her hair would have drooped as she thought about this whole concept.


The magazine returns itself?  It is housed in a cloud?   500 people can read the same magazine at the same time?


Even I will admit that it is possible, and downright likely that the familiar paper magazine available on the newsstand may fade away over time, and some titles will only be available online depending on their circulation and subject matter.


Online periodicals are making back files of magazines a thing of the past in public libraries, but the online movement is now adding current issues to what is available.


Not-so-long-ago, public libraries had basement storage rooms, or mezzanine racks full of magazines going back several years.  Now most of those titles are online with specific articles available to print, e-mail, scan, or read online.


People will remember those green bound volumes that were standard to most libraries called the “Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature” that were an index to magazines.  An entire staff of indexers worked in the Bronz, New York from 1880-2007 performing this task, which is gone today.


As a young librarian, I would scurry to the “Magazine Room” to retrieve an old issue of Time, Newsweek, Life, Look, or McCall’s to satisfy someone’s need for a specific article.  Only once did a huge pile of Life magazines come dumping off a shelf as I ducked my head into the shelves to protect myself.


Hard to imagine that a few keystrokes on the keyboard or a click here and there retrieves an article from a magazine that appears right there on your computer monitor.


From the standpoint of a library administrator, the negative side of this technology is that the subscription to eMagaines is more expensive than the older paper version.  The Library is purchasing 500 online copies rather than one paper copy of a title.


Have you noticed that fewer and fewer things are available free on the Internet?  Magazines will offer you tid-bits of their publication, not the whole issue.


As I have said before, public libraries remain important in our society, as we provide the information in a new format to the public.  Same information, just new tools to access the information.