A conversation with Furr on Jackson-Hinds County libraries

By ANTHONY WARREN,

A new service with the Jackson-Hinds Library System has made hundreds of thousands of books available in electronic form. Is digital the wave of the future for public libraries? Sun Senior Staff Writer Anthony Warren spoke to Jackson-Hinds Executive Director Patty Furr to find out.

What digital services does Jackson-Hinds provide now? And are there plans to expand those services in the future?

“We now provide e-books, e-audio books and digital magazines. We are hoping to add streaming video at some point in the future. Streaming video services are extremely expensive, so we are shopping around.”

Jackson-Hinds recently expanded its e-book offerings. Tell me about that.

“We just accepted an offer from the Mississippi Library Commission to use the Hoopla service, which offers 319,000 titles. This is a considerable expansion. In the past, we had a small number of e-books and e-audios, but they could only be checked out by one person at a time, and they were subject to holds, just like traditional books. So, there were a lot of people waiting to access those resources.”

Prior to adding Hoopla, how many titles did the library offer in electronic form?

“Our previous system had 1,443 e-books and little over 400 audio books.”

With the Hoopla titles, are these current best sellers, classics, what?

“Some of them are former best sellers; all of them have been out at least one year. Most of them are adult titles, but the service does include some children’s books and young adult titles. It also offers Spanish language books for children and adults. This is huge, there is a lot of demand for Spanish books, because a lot of Spanish-speaking people live in our area.”

You mentioned that only one person at a time could check out an e-book using the old provider. How will Hoopla work?

“The service does allow for simultaneous use. If you have 15 people in a book club, for instance, each of them could check out the same book at the same time. It is a tremendous feature of the program. Just being able to do book clubs, where every member can download the same book and read it at the same time is exciting. This is well beyond anything we’ve had in the past.”

Is there a limit a cardholder can check out each month?

“Each card holder can check out three e-books per month. It is not an unlimited number, so you have to choose wisely. However, every member of a family can have a library card, so kids can check out their books and parents can check out their books.”

Who offers the program?

“The program is being offered through the Mississippi Library Commission. The service is for one year, but we hope to continue it after that time, because we believe that having this kind of universal e-book program is so important.”

Do you have to have a special app to use the new services?

“If you want to read e-books or use the e-audio from a computer, you go to the website, log in and download the books to your computer. If you use a phone or a tablet, you use the app and download the books from the app. When the book expires in three weeks, it disappears from your device. It’s there 21 days and goes away. Everyone will have to have a PIN number. If you don’t know it, call the library and we’ll give it to you. To access all of our digital services, you have to have your library card and your PIN number.”

With this new service, do you see the market shrinking for traditional paper and hard-bound books.

“There were 10 percent more print books published this year than last year. With the advent of the Internet and self-publishing, more print books are being published than ever before. Print books are not going away, but they are getting more expensive to buy, as e-books become more available.”

How many traditional books were checked out by Jackson-Hinds patrons last year?

“We circulated 221,000 copies of print books last year. We’re not seeing the demand for print books drop off at all.”

How many card holders do you have?

“I think it’s about 212,000.”

Talking about traditional books, how much does a typical best-seller cost the library to purchase?

“Typically, best-sellers cost us anywhere from $25 to $35, and we are seeing that price go up. We lease a lot of our books, because we don’t have room on our shelves for multiple copies. Everyone wants the best-seller, but we don’t want to end up with 14 or 18 copies (once they’re no longer being checked out). Because we do such a large volume of business with our bookseller, we do receive up to a 40 percent discount on popular titles.”

How long are book leases for?

“Typically, we keep them from six to nine months. When people stop checking them out, we send them back. Whenever there are five people on hold for a print best-seller, we lease another copy. You are never more than fifth in line holding for a print book.”

What percentage of books in the system are currently leased?

“It’s a very small percentage. Take Welty, we have 101,000 books there. At any given time, we may have 700 leased copies, maybe less depending on how many are sent to other libraries.”

How many e-titles have been checked out this year?

“Prior to getting Hoopla, we checked out less than 1,000 from our Overdrive site. We still have holds on the Michelle Obama book, and it’s been out over a year. That’s why (Hoopla) is exciting – you can have anything you see on the page, no holds.”

Do you think that traditional library buildings will eventually go away, as more people use digital?

“I don’t think so. We’re seeing as much use of libraries as ever. Last year, we had 226,000 people use our public access computers; 172,000 use our wireless services. We’ve ramped up our programming in the last year and have an amazing amount of programming at our different branches. We look forward to doing more of that. I want to see yoga and dance lessons at the library. I want more clubs and interest groups to use our libraries. We have chess clubs at two different branches now, and robotics and video editing groups for teens at other branches. People still value library buildings as places they can come and have quiet, work on their studies, go to school on our computers or work on their businesses.”

Where do you see Jackson-Hinds in five years?

“I hope by then we’ll have a book mobile. I hope Welty will be in a new facility that will be dry and downtown, and a place where people can access it. We do have our technology center and computer lab there. I certainly hope by then we will have a new Tisdale library. We have picked a new location and I understand the city had an offer on the old building.”

Where do you see the system in a decade?

“That’s a hard prediction to make because technology and society are changing. I don’t, however, see libraries as being less important.”

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