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Editorial: Libraries are changing with the times

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It's easy to overlook your local library. It's there. It has books. If you fill out a form and carry a card with you, it will let you take those books home with you for a little while.

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It's, you know, nice. Easy.

It's not actually that simple, of course. Libraries are more than places where they keep books for loan, and library staffs work hard to make sure that's the case. The facilities offer activities for people of all ages, from storytimes meant for babies, to opportunities for young readers to practice their skills with attentive dogs, to teen-centric video game sessions and computer classes for adults. The local library brings in interesting speakers and other programs and in many ways does everything it can to encourage people to read.

That process is changing as more people choose electronic reading devices over paper-and-ink books. As discussed elsewhere in this issue, Dakota County libraries have been offering electronic books for loan since 2010. And while the service is fairly well used -- there were 11,600 eBooks checked out last month in the Dakota County Library system -- it was never exactly user friendly. It was a pain to connect library accounts to the eBook system. There is no way to notify readers when they book they are waiting for is available. It worked, but not always well. Not always intuitively.

Now that appears to be changing. Local libraries have adopted a new system that is meant to make the process simpler. That's a good thing. Even better, the new system should eventually allow the library to share materials among systems -- Dakota County residents can check out a book owned by the Washington County system, for example -- just as it currently does with physical books.

The world of libraries is changing, but the service continues to play an important role in a community, especially in a difficult economy when fewer people have money to buy books or find entertainment in other places. It's good to see the system keeping up with those changes.

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