"The Playaways are just another way to get books into our community," said Mary Baykan, director of Washington County Free Library.
It's about information
Information has been the business of libraries since Biblical times, Baykan said, whether it's scrolls or digital format.
"It's the information itself and getting it into the community that is important to us," she said.
"Today we have so many choices. The variety of ways that people of all ages can access books is marvelous," Baykan said, "and the ability to listen as well as to read is such a benefit to the people who really love what's between the covers of a book."
Washington County also has some video games customers can check out, while Washington and some other county library systems have game systems such as Wiis kept at the library for special events.
Franklin County (Pa.) Library System has a mobile lab with nine computers that allows Denice Bigham to connect with teens on their level in an effort to get them to come into the library for other programs.
The mobile unit has visited schools, after hours, so students such as members of a graphic novel club can play multiplayer games such as "StarCraft" or "MechWarrior 3," says Bigham, assistant director of library services.
Brave new electronic world
E-books, Playaways, game systems, DVDs, books on CD - with budget restraints and changing electronic book formats, not every library has every format. Some are taking a wait-and-see approach in regards to certain formats to see how well received they are and if they stick around.
Take Blu-ray, a high-definition video technology. Carrie Plymire, head of technical services for Western Maryland Regional Library, said Washington County began offering feature films in the Blu-ray format in May. That's in addition to the regular DVD format. Blu-ray requires a different player than a regular DVD player.
James Kelly, branch administrator of the C. Burr Artz Public Library in downtown Frederick, Md., says he's curious to see how well Blu-ray is received. Frederick County libraries haven't ventured into the Blu-ray format yet, but they have plenty of other high-tech options.
Customers have been able to check out many materials on their own at the downtown Frederick library for years and, since about a year ago, can check out DVDs through the Lock-A-Shelf system.
All it requires is a library card, which is used to select the movie. Then a bar code, with due date, is printed that the customer waves in front of the movie case in the Lock-A-Shelf (it looks like a bookcase with cases of DVDs you can flip through) to release the DVD.
That way customers don't have to take an empty case to checkout and wait for a clerk to go get the DVD, Kelly says.
Frederick's most recent high-tech foray is into handheld reference devices and communication badges that have turned their reference librarians into mobile helpers.
If a reference librarian spots someone who needs help, the handheld device has the same services as the desktop computer with access to the library catalog and the Internet, Kelly said. If what the customer needs is on another floor, the librarian can call ahead to a librarian in that area to get a head start gathering the requested materials.
Some area libraries offer patrons the opportunity to check out a few chapters of a particular book before deciding whether to check out the entire book. Patrons can get the first few chapters of certain books e-mailed to them through a service often referred to as DearReader. Washington County Free Library, Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Libraries and Coyle Free Library in Chambersburg, Pa., offer this service. WCFL and Coyle call the service the Online Book Club. Coyle's is for teens.
In those rare instances where a library doesn't own a copy of the book and the customer wants to read more of it, the library might order the book, say Plymire and Pamela Coyle, director of Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Libraries.
Expansion of offerings