Current Issue #488

Meet South Australia’s ebook librarian - she’s here to help

Sia Duff
Emily Wilson

With a collection of 87000 ebook and audiobook titles free to borrow in just a few clicks, librarian Emily Wilson is the hero South Australian readers need right now.

South Australians have more reading time on their hands than ever right now. But just because libraries around the state have had their doors forced shut, doesn’t mean they can’t continue to keep you well-stocked with reading material.

“We’re loaning out thousands more items than we were a week ago,” Emily Wilson tells The Adelaide Review. As a Collection Development Librarian for the state’s Public Library Services, Wilson has spent the last two and a half years beefing up the state’s collection of ebooks, audiobooks and other digital materials for just such a moment.

“When it started in 2011, it started out small,” she says of South Australia’s ebook service. “Over the years it’s grown from a collection size of about 5000 to over 87000 items,” she says. “That’s 69220 ebooks, and 17919 audiobooks.”

Accessibility has always been the driving force behind the collection, particularly for visitors who can’t visit a physical library. A month ago, that generally meant shift workers, regional borrowers, the ageing or unwell. But with the latest COVID-19 measures shuttering libraries around the country, that’s a demographic that has grown rather all-encompassing.

“Now, that’s everybody – we’re all disenfranchised and remote populations, so the digital collections have become important for everybody in lockdown,” she says. “We see that from the stats as well, just from the amount of new users daily, and the amount of holds.

“Loans are up by around 30 per cent; over the past fortnight we’ve had 200 per cent more new users joining each day. We’ve got about 2500 unique users each day loaning over 4000 titles a day.”

Sia Duff
Wilson shows us the Libby app

(Important note for our readers: we originally shot these images weeks ago, back when social distancing was just a random and faintly oxymoronic combination of words)

Users can remotely access the collection on smart devices and tablets using an Apple and Android-compatible e-reader app called Libby; to access, you simply need to be a member of your local council library, or Adelaide City Libraries. If you’re not, it takes all of a few minutes to do. Trust us.

“I was talking to an Uber driver once, and he said to me, ‘you work in a library – I want to read Kurt Vonnegut, but there are no books on the shelf!’. And I said, ‘I have them as ebooks, or you could listen to Vonnegut himself reading his own audiobook’. I showed him how to get a digital membership, and then it was done. He could listen while waiting for the next fare.”

Along with Vonnegut (timely reading, by the way), the catalogue largely mirrors your local library’s collection, from buzzy recent titles like Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & The Light or Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror to rainy day classics like Little Women. But, there’s also scope to be more eclectic and flexible. “We’re going with all the popular titles that we can purchase; you’re going to have the bestsellers, but then there’s also the back catalogue where you can have a lot of breadth and depth as well. 

“We’ve just put a lot of classics in there. If you’re looking at kids’ stuff, today I just created a whole collection for learning from home – that’s what many kids are doing now. It’s not just fiction, but STEM resources, arts and crafts, activities – I found a title called Junk Drawer Physics, so people stuck at home can do science experiments.”

While much of the state’s library network has ground to a halt, Wilson has been busy curating more collections of titles to help fill those freshly-abundant idle hours over the coming months. “We’ve put together a collection of simple cook books, a home learning collection, a collection on ANZAC Day – obviously the ANZAC march and dawn services won’t be happening,” she says, before listing off collections covering South Australian writers, Adelaide Writers’ Week guests, graphic novels, and more.

“I also thought it was important to put together a mental health and wellbeing collection, which is quite prominent on the front page.”

Beyond the current crisis, Wilson says, ebooks give libraries and their users a flexibility that isn’t always possible with paper and ink.

“You can switch the font, change the light settings, all the stuff you perhaps don’t always think about until you need it,” she says. “If you need to read in large print, there’s not a lot being published, and it’s often not published at the same time. There are very specific large print publishers, and they don’t always get the rights to things straight away, so you’re stuck reading romances and westerns.

“But on a device, you can just change the font, and read the latest bestseller straight away. So it’s a lot more inclusive for the community, which I think is so important.”

And, as the last week has proved, this digital trove allows our library system to adapt to once-unforeseen circumstances. “The holds have just been phenomenal, and the wait times have gone up,” she says of the current user influx. “But we’re being really responsive to that – and buying a lot more copies.”

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

Digital Editor
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Walter is a writer and editor living on Kaurna Country.

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