I have been thinking a lot lately about industries that were swept away by the horseless carriage 100 years ago.

In 1900 there were many companies that made buggy whips and corsets (one of them, Spirella Corsets, was located here in Meadville.) Both industries were eventually wiped out when the automobile was introduced and became popular in the early 1900′s. Women who had to start a car themselves couldn’t bend over to crank the car’s starter if they were wearing a corset. And as for buggy whips well, no need for one of those when you had an accelerator on your horseless carriage.

Technology has advanced to the point where most individuals have access to a computer from which to receive information or download books; those with a personal computer can do this anywhere there is cell phone access. A description of this technology just 20 years ago would have seemed like magic.

So how are our libraries going to cope with virtual books as demand for the old-fashioned book slowly declines? A very good question and one we have been contemplating for months. We know that certain members of our community would love to have down-loadable books accessible to their electronic reading devices. Unfortunately, publishers and copyright authors are not making it easy for libraries to retrieve their electronic materials. In addition, funding is a real obstacle for the public library since purchasing electronic books means having to cut back on purchases of traditional materials.

So although introducing electronic media in libraries is difficult and a challenge in libraries today, MPL has been making some progress in this area with the introduction of Playaway books in the Children’s Department. The audio books allow the user to listen to a complete book through ear buds or even a sound system.

In addition, we have linked our on-line Patron Catalog to the more than 10,000 books of the Guttenberg Project. By going to our web site and searching for a title published before 1927, you can follow the link and download both electronic books and/or versions of the book. In the next few months we’ll install new software that will allow our patrons to access more than 5,000 electronic books made available through the Pennsylvania Power Library Project. Most of these books are older titles (1960-1990) dealing with non-fiction topics.

Finally, we are hoping to introduce more popular and newer books electronically by the end of this year or the beginning of 2012. Though we have yet to select a provider, our specifications require a supplier who will provide us with materials in all popular formats including E-Pub and PDF. Though our plans are not yet complete, we are committed to making sure that Meadville Public Library does not become an anachronism. I have a picture of a horseless carriage on my desktop that reminds me of just that every day.

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