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Hamilton Public Library chief librarian Paul Takala 2013

Managing the digital shift

The last few years have seen a rapid rise in the popularity of eBooks and other digital formats. For libraries – whose core business has traditionally been books and other physical formats – this digital shift means changing to better meet the needs of the communities we serve.

As we continue to evolve our collections and services to respond to changing customer needs, library usage continues to grow. Last year, Hamilton Public Library customers borrowed 7.3 million items – an all-time record for us. The last two years has seen another new trend develop: the growth in borrowing is due not only to the popularity of physical items, but to the growing popularity of our digital formats as well.

When eBooks were first incorporated into our system in 2009, we lent 34,000 digital items. In 2012, with the addition of digital magazines (Zinio), downloadable music (Freegal), and digital picture books for kids (Tumblebooks), that number has increased to 600,000 items.

All our digital services are offered free for Hamilton residents with library cards.  Increasingly we are seeing customers access these services from the convenience of their own homes.

Downloading eBooks from the library will continue to become simpler and we will continue playing a leadership role in the library community by working with publishers to improve access to digital content. I believe ease of use and better content will lead to significant growth in overall usage.

Library staff in our 23 branches are available to assist customers in learning to download library materials to their eReaders, tablets and mobile devices.

Where does this shift leave books and other items in the physical collection?  HPL’s Board is committed to maintaining excellent physical collections as we grow our digital offerings.  Although the shift is moving towards digital, it’s important to remember that last year’s physical circulation still accounted for 92 per cent of all items borrowed.

Moving forward, we are going to avoid prematurely abandoning the physical book or physical collections; instead we will monitor usage and adjust our collection over time. As we maintain excellent physical collections we will also embrace digital formats and help our customers learn to be comfortable with the new formats and devices.

I believe that 20 years from now HPL will still be circulating physical books, but I also believe that at some point in the next decade, the majority of our circulations will become digital.

Promoting literacy and the love of reading will remain one of our core missions.  The shift to digital formats does not change that, rather, it creates new opportunities to help us shape our spaces, build our programs around customer’s needs and more effectively engage with our community.

Paul Takala is Chief Librarian of the Hamilton Public Library. Visit for more information on the library and its services.

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