There has never been a better time for public libraries than now. More U.S. citizens per capita have library cards than ever before, and though folks have been predicting the end of reading and libraries since the invention of the photograph, library usership continues to rise locally and nationally.

Libraries have always been cited for their excellent return on investment for the individual user, but never before have they been positioned so intently as economic development drivers than in the last decade, the latest local example being the Fort Vancouver Public Library which opened last month. One reason Vancouver's library was constructed five blocks away from the previous location is to drive the development of downtown Vancouver, Wash.

This is merely the latest metro area facility. All of the libraries in Washington County are in buildings constructed since 2000 apart from Cornelius, which is moving forward with a new project. This has resulted in a phenomenal increase in checkouts over the last five years. From 2006 to 2010, Washington County circulation increased by 55.8 percent: Multnomah County circulation increased 20 percent. Comparatively, Clackamas County is lagging behind in meeting user needs, although West Linn, Wilsonville and Estacada have constructed new buildings in the last decade. Projects are in the works for Gladstone, Canby, Sandy and Oregon City. Still, circulation in Clackamas County libraries continues to rise, with a total increase of 9.5 percent in the last five years.

What will the library of the future contain? When the first public library opened in Lake Oswego in 1930, the collection included a copy of Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist.' We now carry that book on CD, DVD, soundtracks (and sheet music) to the play and the movie and picture book versions for children. The book can be downloaded at the library.

Lake Oswego has the highest per capita library use in Oregon, and with each new additional format, we have to make serious choices about allocating space. Our users are technologically savvy and they want access to materials in a variety of formats. We circulated kindles loaded with our Lake Oswego Reads title earlier this year. We've recently added blu-ray to our collection.

Formats will continue to change. LPs and VHS have come and gone. My favorite is the Bio-Optical Organized Knowledge center (or 'book'). The 'book' doesn't contain any wires, needs no electrical connection, no battery and no recharging. It is portable and compact, and can be used anywhere. The book never crashes, and it's constructed of 100 percent recyclable materials.

Each page is scanned optically, sending information directly to the brain. There is an optional accessory - the bookmark - with which the user can mark the exact point at which he or she finished the last session. Due to rigid international standards, the bookmark can be used with all books.

Lake Oswego has a whopping 35,769 library card holders. Whatever the format, we look forward to continuing to provide the best service possible to the more than 1,000 visitors we see every day. See you at the library.

Bill Baars is the director of the Lake Oswego Public Library.

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