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Today, we can discuss, analyze, evaluate, interpret, and communicate ideas and knowledge in a variety of ways.

We are being told that electronic media are fresher and easier ways to borrow and read publications from local libraries.

It only takes a library card to explore a smorgasbord of options. Like all public services, libraries are looking for ways to do more with less.

Literacy, Libraries and Hidalgo County

The population of Hidalgo County is currently estimated at 849,843 (July 2016), and its literacy rate has been estimated at 50 percent. According to the 2015 Hidalgo County Library Services (HCLS) 2015 Annual Report, “830,000 people visited local libraries 2.5 million times.” According to the Report, “a good majority of the visits were to use the free computers available at the HCLS libraries.”

The member libraries of the HCLS and the Hidalgo County Commissioners have each been attempting to address literacy and information access in cost effective and progressive ways. According to notes from September 6, 2016 Commissioners Court, HCLS has received annual funding of $235,716. For 2017, the HCLS formally requested support for the establishment of an Electronic Library as well as its annual funding of $237,138.

On April 18, 2017, after two years of study and preparation, the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court approved $400,000 to create an Electronic Library (ELibrary) for Hidalgo County residents. The initial one-time funding would be to purchase an electronic collection that would be competitive with neighboring collections. This would be in addition to the $237,138 annual funds to support the library system.

The ELibrary has been compared with the electronic library in Bexar County, opened in September 2013, and known as the BiblioTech. The main difference between Bibliotech and the ELibrary is that a building and separate county staff are not required, keeping the HCLS ELibrary initial cost at $400,000—and not the $2.3 million startup cost of Bexar County’s Bibliotech. This is being accomplished because the ELibrary will be launched and maintained by the HCLS.

The HCLS Secretary and former HCLS President Arnoldo Becho pointed out that the HCLS ELibrary is being “created primarily to combat the County’s low literacy rate, which is the lowest literacy rate in Texas. The Hidalgo County ELibrary is a good investment and reflects Hidalgo County’s support of literacy efforts,” he said.

With the initial investment of $400,000, the ELibrary can provide 40,000 e-books and other e-content to anyone with a library card. The e-books and other e-materials can be read with e-readers and a variety of digital devices including desktop computers, tablets and smart phones.

A benefit to the HCLS ELibrary is to provide electronic access to thousands of eBooks, audiobooks, comics, and magazines anytime. Transportation to and from a local library for material will no longer be a barrier to reader access. But a different barrier would exist, that is, access to a digital connection.

“An important benefit of our efforts, said Marisol Vidales, current HCLS President and Hidalgo County Librarian, “is access to the ELibrary. This resource is being made available to all Hidalgo County citizens no matter where they reside,” she added. Some of the smaller libraries do not have large enough budgets to maintain a physical and digital collection, and so those residents are missing out. “With a resource like this, it will not matter if you reside in McAllen or Mercedes. Increased readership is very important. Our budgets are limited. Recent books are expensive and e-books are also very expensive. Sharing costs and resulting resources benefits us all,” she emphasized. Three libraries currently have e-books.

HCLS is comprised of 13 municipal libraries in Hidalgo County which work together as a federated system. Member libraries include: Mercedes, Weslaco, Elsa, Donna, Alamo, San Juan, Pharr, Edinburg, Hidalgo, McAllen, Mission, Penitas, and La Joya.

The HCLS Library will also include ComicsPlus which provides unlimited simultaneous access to 19,000 comic titles. It will also have unlimited simultaneous access to digital magazines through a subscription service known as Zinio. In total, 70 popular magazine titles are available such as ESPN, Harper’s Bazaar, and National Geographic. Audio books and eBooks will be available through OneClick Digital. All resources will be free with use of the library card.

Benefits of the ELibrary

The ELibrary will be beneficial to all the libraries in Hidalgo County by increasing resources and providing another way to increase readership. Current library card holders can access e-books and other e-materials. Designated local library staff will assist library patrons in accessing e-materials. There may be residents without access to HCLS libraries, but who can more easily access nearby Hidalgo County Resource Centers. People without library cards can visit their local library or their Hidalgo County Precinct’s Community Resource Center. HCLS members will be visiting Precinct Community Resource Centers to provide the HCLS ELibrary at each Center. Community Resource Center staff will be on-site to assist the public in accessing materials. Temporary library cards will be issued that are good for a three-month period.

Some Issues in Relation to Using On-Line Readers and Computers

Negative physical effects have been experienced from too much time spent using computers and e-readers. Headaches. neck pain, dry eyes, and eye strain are the most frequent complaints.  Nearly 70% of adults show these side effects according to an ABC report. And the concern for such impacts is even higher for children.  E-readers can often be the only device children use today for reading. If not dealt early, this could lead to more problems as they age.

There are ways to ameliorate these issues. Don’t spend more than 20 minutes at a time for an e-reader or computer session. Take a break and keep eyes lubricated. Take periodic breaks and be sure to stretch the neck and shoulders gently during breaks.

Electronic Books

An electronic book is a book that publishers make available in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, which is readable on the flat panel display of computers or other electronic devices. Although sometimes defined as an electronic version of a printed book, some e-books exist without a printed equivalent as do some e-newspapers. Commercially produced and sold, e-books are usually intended to be read or downloaded on e-reader devices. However, any sophisticated held computer device that features a controllable viewing screen can also be used to read e-books, including desktop computers, tablets, and smart phones.

It has been estimated that in the U.S., as of 2012, more e-books were published online than were distributed in hardcover, according to Linda McMaken in “E-Books Vs Print Books (August 21,2012). She says that the main reason people buy e-books online is due possibly to lower prices and increased convenience. People can buy from home or go online with mobile devices and choose from a larger selection of titles. With e-books, electronic bookmarks make referencing easier and e-book readers may allow the user to annotate pages. Although fiction and non-fiction books come in e-book formats, technical material is especially suited for e-book delivery because it can be electronically searched for key words.

E-book reading is increasing in the U.S.; by 2014, 28 percent of adults had read an e-book, compared to 23 percent in 2013. This is increasing, because by 2014, 50 percent of American adults had an e-reader or a tablet, compared to 30 percent owning such devices in 2013, according to the Pew Research Center.

U.S. libraries began providing free e-books to the public in 1998 through their websites and associated services, although the e-books were primarily scholarly, technical, or professional in nature and could not be downloaded. In 2003, libraries began providing free, downloadable popular fiction, and non-fiction e-books to the public, launching an e-book lending model that has seemingly been working successfully for public libraries. The number of library, e-book distributors, and lending models has continued to increase over the next few years. From 2005-2008, libraries experienced 60 percent growth in e-book collections.

In 2010, a Public Library Trends and Technical Access Study found that 66% of public libraries were offering e-books. A large movement in the library industry began seriously examining the issues relative to lending e-books, as knowledge related to e-book usage was growing.

However, some publications and authors have not endorsed the concept of electronic publishing, citing issues with user demand, copyright piracy, and challenges with proprietary devices and systems. In a survey of interlibrary loan librarians, it was found that 92 percent held e-books in their collections, and that 27 percent of the libraries of the libraries had negotiated interlibrary loan rights for some of these books. This survey found significant barriers to conducting interlibrary loans for e-books. Demand-driven acquisition (DDA) has been around for a few years in public libraries which allows vendors to streamline the acquisition process by offering to match a library’s selection profile to the vendor’s book titles. The library’s catalog is then populated with records for all the e-books that match the profile.

Books versus Screens

Digital libraries have been on college campuses for years. Proposals for digital libraries have often been met with doubts. In California, the city of Newport Beach floated the concept of a bookless branch in 2011, until a backlash put books back into the plan. Attempting to replace printed books with e-books is sometimes not popular. Nearly a decade earlier, the Tucson-Pima Library System in Arizona opened an all-digital bookless branch. After just a few years, the library phased in printed materials. The public had demanded their books back and got their way. “I don’t think people could really envision a library without books in it,” said Susan Husband, the Santa Rosa Branch Library’s Manager.

E-readers and tablets are becoming more popular as such techniques improve, but reading on paper still has its advantages. Many book shoppers like to browse through shelves, read covers and even a few pages before making a final book selection, purchasing it, and taking it home to read.  In selecting an e-book, people may browse through images of the covers of books. They then select and order titles online and, when they select and order titles, the e-book can be sent online or the user can download the e-book.

In her February 2014 Scientific American article, “Physical Effects of E-Reading”, Christyna Hunter emphasizes that “Reading printed material vs electronic material makes a difference.” When it comes to memory and learning, she says that in using digital format,” readers tend to skim, looking for keywords. As a result, full content of the material is often lost.” Also “seeing” only a page or two at a time rather than a whole book is “disorienting to the reader”. Although most e-readers have a digital remnant on the screen of a reader’s progress within the e-book, that’s not enough. To physically hold a book and flip through it, even underlining sections, “makes a reader feel more grounded to the experience than a simple readout of that reader’s progress on the screen. “Where readers are grounded to the experience, material is more likely to be remembered,” according to Ms. Hunter. Students who read via a computer screen did a little worse on a reading comprehension test than those students who used actual textbooks. During the test, they were unable to look back at text for answers. “Students who used actual texts retained not only more information, but remembered where that information was located,” she had concluded.

“I would kind of miss books,” said a PSJA high school student. “I don’t like being on the tablets and reading very long on them hurts my eyes.”

Hidalgo County Commissioner Palacios Comments

Precinct 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios urges Hidalgo County residents to join his excitement about the forthcoming Hidalgo County Electronic Library:

“I am anxiously awaiting the grand opening of the HCLS ELibrary. As a County Commissioner, I strive to bring services to the doorsteps of our constituents. The possibility of bringing a collection of literature in digital books, audiobooks, magazines, and other resources available via the Internet to all constituents of the County is a great opportunity. County Community Resource Centers in each precinct will have access to provide individual logins to their community members,” Palacios said.

“E-books are a convenient way to access a library in the palm of your hand. By downloading the free application on a smartphone, computer or tablet, the user will have access to a book anytime and anywhere. The opening day digital collection will feature simultaneous access to 20,000 e-books, 19,000 comic books, and 70 popular magazines. New titles will be added monthly to the e-book collection. I highly encourage all constituents to visit any public library within the County or visit a County Community Resource Center for more information on this great initiative.”

What does it Mean?

When asked what the ELibrary means, the Director of the Pharr Library Adolfo Garcia, said, “This is the library of the future, where people can read, listen, and watch e-materials on a computer or mobile device 24/7.”

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