The digital age arrived in Citrus County libraries about 10 years ago and it has taken off.
E-books and audio books are available for checkout on the library’s app. Digital research has replaced poring over dusty encyclopedias. Thousands of research sources are available at the touch of a keyboard.
It’s still a small portion of the overall library offerings — about 91,000 ebooks and audio books in circulation last year, compared to 497,814 in circulation of all other print materials, including the books patrons peruse on library shelves, library director Eric Head said.
“The game changed when Amazon introduced the Kindles,” Head said. “There was a decline in the physical materials. We’re seeing those are balancing out.”
He added: “Our circulation has held steady in both. We’re seeing an increase in total circulation. The the digital continues to increase. We mix changes from year to year depending on what’s popular.”
Citrus County Libraries, which generally go about their business in a quiet, unassuming way, found themselves dead center in controversy last week when the Chronicle reported that county commissioners didn’t want to pay a little under $2,700 for a group digital subscription to the New York Times.
Commissioner Scott Carnahan, declaring his support of President Donald Trump in labeling the Times as “fake news,” said: “I don’t want the New York Times in this county.”
Since then the debate has raged among Citrus County residents on a number of fronts, from the validity of the Pulitzer-prize winning Times as a balanced source of news to whether the county should pay for digital subscriptions to library card holders when the print edition is available in most branches, or residents can sign up for a subscription on their own.
Commissioner Brian Coleman has asked to schedule the issue as part of the board’s Nov. 19 agenda. The library district advisory board, whose members are appointed by county commissioners, meets at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14 at the Central Ridge Library to discuss the issue and decide whether to give commissioners their recommendation on the Times subscription.
The New York Times would have been the library’s first paid digital subscription of a newspaper, but not its first subscription overall.
Here are some others:
• The county pays $14,000 a year to house the digital Citrus County law library at the Lakes Region Library. While the service is not available off campus, so to speak, it replaces the need for shelf space.
“Instead of three stacked rows of law books, it’s all available online,” Head said.
The law library is funded in part by court fees.
• The county has three genealogical resources and two are available off library sites. American Ancestors is $200 a year, donated by the Citrus County Genealogical Society. The county pays $5,100 annually for HeritageQuest and $3,300 annually for Ancestry.com. American Ancestors and HeritageQuest are available on your personal device or the library; Ancestry.com can be accessed only in the libraries.
Head said decisions whether to pursue subscriptions are entirely based on public interest. With subscriptions, the county can keep track of the number of patrons who access these sites.
He said the New York Times offers group subscription rates to libraries based on a county’s or city’s population. Head said Tampa Bay communities, including the cities of Dunedin and Tampa, have digital subscriptions of the Times for library patrons.
The media search page provided to libraries through the Florida Department of State has not taken off with readers, he said.
“It’s not very user friendly,” Head said. “It’s OK if you’re doing research.”
Head said he had planned to use the New York Times subscription to see if there’s enough popularity in Citrus County for that type of direct media access.
“Since this was the biggest and most user friendly interface, we were going to start with this one and make decisions based on that use,” he said.
Sandy Price, chairwoman of the library district advisory board, said Head has done his research.
“He’s just trying to bring the library forward with today's environment,” she said. “Digital is going to be the way of the future.”
Price didn’t want to offer her opinion on the county commission’s blocking Head’s request for the digital New York Times subscription, but she did say commissioners should listen to the experts.
“We’re paying professional people with library degrees,” she said, “to make those decisions.”