Clay County library system looks to expand digital options

Julie Morgan

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The goal of the Clay County library system's five-year plan is to improve the quality of the collection, which will ultimately shorten wait times. The county took an inventory of its collection and found that more than 75 percent needed to be replaced.

The library is planning to update the inventory by expanding digital options in the form of e-audiobooks and e-books. Currently, the county offers nearly 6,000 e-books. This compared to more than 456,000 in Nassau County and more than 481,000 in St. Johns County.

"We are planning to earmark the State Aid to Libraries budget specifically for the e-library since that's the area that is in the most need. And it's also the quickest to fix because when you order e-material, as soon as you hit the button, it downloads, and we have that in our collection," said Karen Walker, director of Library Services.

The Department of Libraries and Information Services issues the State Aid to Libraries grant. The county will use $50,000 of the $71,000 grant to boost digital options. County commissioners will take up this matter at the next meeting. Once approved, Walker says e-library options will be updated before the summer.

There is a high demand for e-library materials. "Just as an example, we ordered 604 items on March 16, and 99.5 percent of those have checked out already. Within a couple of hours, 48 of them had been checked out," said Walker.

Between March 2020 and January 2022, they increased digital content by 77 percent, increasing checkouts by 62 percent. The library has also seen an uptick in checkouts for digital magazines. In December 2021, there were 464, and in January 2022, 521.

The Director of Library Services outlined the financial impact of updating the library collection. She says the collection budget will need to increase over the next five years. The collection budget for the current fiscal year is $325,000. In 2023, it is expected to increase by more than $161,000 to $486,500. By 2027 the collection budget is projected to be more than $546,000.

Another option that comes at a price is to become part of a cooperative of libraries that share materials. "We don't know that buy-in just yet," said County Manager Howard Wanamaker at Tuesday's commissioner's meeting.

There are a few factors considered in the collection budget equation: accelerated patron adoption, increased cost for products and materials, and population growth.

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