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Belk embraces digital age with technological innovations

by Ashley Fahey,
  • Belk Library continues to advance in technology and plans to introduce a text message IM service. Photo by Julia Sayers.

From the introduction of the Kindles last semester to the transcription of library archives to an online format, Belk Library is beginning to embrace the digital age.

"Belk Library is looking at several technology innovations right now, all of which provide users quick, easy access to library info and resources," said Lynne Bisko, a non-print librarian at Belk. "We hope that technology will improve the visitor's experience and make it easier to find and use library resources when and where they're needed."

Some of the innovations Belk will introduce include a mobile website for the library, a mobile version of the catalog and increased usage of Quick Response, or QR codes, Bisko said. QR codes, according to the Elon University website, consist of "a matrix barcode, often referred to as a 2D barcode, that when read by a smartphone or a cell phone with a camera, displays data or goes to a website."

Bisko said QR codes are currently being used to allow users to access the entire DVD database of Belk. They will expand to post QR codes on copiers, Pharos printing stations and the DocSend station.

"In the future, we hope to offer a text message IM service, and to find additional uses for QR codes," Bisko said.

The six Kindles Belk purchased last semester are being used regularly by students, faculty and library visitors.

"We think the program has been very successful," said Shannon Tennant, a catalog librarian. "Kindles have been checked out by faculty, staff, students, all of the community has been using them. We have a variety of titles and genres available to appeal to as many people as possible."

Tennant said the Kindles are checked out constantly and, so far, there have been no major problems with the rental program.

"The only problem, which isn't even much of one, is that Belk Library has second generation Kindles, and now that the third generation Kindle has been introduced, it is hard to find updates for the second generation," Tennant said. "But what we are looking to do now is to expand on titles offered on the Belk Kindles."

Even archiving at Elon is becoming a part of the digital world.

"I think for libraries and archives to remain relevant, online archiving is important," said Katie Nash, archivist and special collections librarian. "Specifically in the archives community, making collections available online is a luxury and necessity all at the same time."

Nash said Belk Library is using a program called Content Digital Management, or ContentDM, which is a database that stores and makes digital content accessible and organized in one place.

"Before ContentDM, we had separate websites with digital content and separate library catalog records," Nash said. "We hope to put all of the Thomas Jefferson Carret Essays in ContentDM, as well as embark on a large project to get the honors theses digitalized and available in Content DM."

One of the biggest issues with the evolution of technology in everyday society is the fear that print materials, such as books, will become obsolete in years to come. But while Belk is expanding its digital and technological means, print material will still be relevant, Bisko said.

"We'll certainly see fewer purchases of physical materials, and we've noticed that already in the library," Bisko said. "However, many unresolved issues still exist related to copyright, access, quality and preservation. Plus, I think most students and faculty still prefer printed materials, especially when doing research."

The archives will also retain their original form, as there is a particular need to see certain archives in person as opposed to a digital format.

"Sometimes it is necessary to come to the physical location of where the item is housed because the digital copy is not sufficient," Nash said. "Just because there is a digital copy online does not mean that people no longer come to a physical space of an archive."

Other advances that Belk Library has made over the past few years include blogging, widgets, instant messaging, podcasts and an increased social media presence, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Additionally, in the past 10 years, Tennant said the computer systems have changed three times.

But a desire to keep up with the times by developing technology comes with a cost.

"One of the conflicts we've faced is, of course, money," Bisko said.

According to her and Tennant, the university and library's budgets have been tightened as a result of the recent economic conditions.

"Luckily, many of the technological innovations don't cost a lot of money and can end up saving the library a lot of money in the long run," Tennant said.