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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Library checking out future of reading

By Barry Schrader.................................Feburary 22, 2011

The DeKalb Public Library on Feb. 13 celebrated 80 years in the Haish Memorial Library building, a 19,000-square-foot historical edifice packed with 90,000 volumes of books, plus hundreds more CDs, DVDs, microfilms and periodicals.
Talking to library Director Dee Coover the next day, she explained the shelves are so full that for every new book purchased, one of the least used must go. Seated in her corner office, overlooking the first home of Isaac Ellwood across Third Street, she was surrounded by memories of the barbed wire barons.
Jacob Haish, whose money built this library, was one of the three DeKalb men who made their fortunes with the invention and manufacture of the prickly wire. His portrait is displayed in her office, along with a cane made from twisted strands of barbed wire that bears his name. A nearby plaque shows the building was

Dee Coover, DeKalb Public Library director, sits at her desk in the Haish Memorial Library building on Oak Street in DeKalb. The desk is the 1893 desk of the town’s first librarian, Eliza Murray.
(Barry Schrader photo)

listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The desk she uses is the original 1893 desk of the town’s first librarian, Eliza Murray.
But on top of it stands a 21st century flat-panel monitor for a computer that represents the dichotomy libraries find themselves in today. They can’t possibly afford the thousands of new books authors are cranking out, but the computer can provide an alternative in online reading and remote access to the editions people still seek to read. When Coover started at the library 17 years ago, e-books and e-reader devices weren’t in our vocabulary.
Now she’s getting her staff up to speed on the coming introduction of “e-reading” to their patrons and trying to find the money to buy access to the new offerings online that already number in the hundreds of thousands.
She said the library doesn’t plan to purchase the e-reader devices, but will offer titles for patrons to access and download from home without ever visiting the library.
The problem is the companies that distribute e-books won’t let them offer an e-book to more than one patron at a time, and the period of the loan is over when the e-book is erased automatically from the computer. She must also purchase a hardbound edition for patrons who don’t have access to the new technology. So if people want to read the latest Harry Potter book, they have to wait for it to be returned by a patron who has it at home a month, or for the e-edition that also has about the same loan period. Of course libraries can order multiple copies, but that is costly.
So librarians have to be experts at “reading” the minds of consumers, knowing which books they will want to read, whether they will want them in paper or digitally and how many to stock to meet the demand.
Coover is optimistically forging ahead to embrace the new technologies so the library can meet the demands of today’s readers. She has only $5,000 budgeted for this digital venture, but plans to stretch it as far as possible to keep up with the times.
It was encouraging to learn that out of the 96 public libraries in this region of the state, DeKalb is the second highest in book circulation. There is certainly demand for more titles among residents.
Looking at the cramped quarters and steady flow of patrons, I certainly hope the community is ready to support a new facility in the not-too-distant future. I can envision converting this grand, old building into a fine museum – it may even be the perfect answer to what the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association is looking for.
Now for a bit of trivia: At the 80th open house I queried several people as to what book they have just read. Coover answered: “Room” by Donoghue. DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen named two—“Ford Country” by Grisham and “Lake Wobegon Days” by Keillor. State Rep. Bob Pritchard said his was “First Family” by Ellis about President John and Abigail Adams, while his wife Mary has just read “Mary” by Newman which is a fictitious diary account of First Lady Mary Lincoln while in an asylum. Reference librarian Theresa Iversen recently finished “Learning to Die in Miami” by Carlos Eire.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115