How metro Phoenix libraries are embracing the digital revolution | Phoenix New Times

How metro Phoenix libraries are embracing the digital revolution

The Greater Phoenix Digital Library saw 6 million checkouts last year. Here's how you can take advantage of the resources.
Books are available for checkout at Litchfield Park Library, but there are far more available through the Greater Phoenix Digital Library.
Books are available for checkout at Litchfield Park Library, but there are far more available through the Greater Phoenix Digital Library. Kayla Mae Jackson/Cronkite News
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In an age dominated by digital devices, public libraries are evolving to meet the changing needs of their communities.

In 2023, the Greater Phoenix Digital Library, which includes library systems across Maricopa County, saw a staggering 6 million digital checkouts. Area libraries are transforming from spaces filled with printed books and quiet study spaces to resources that embrace technology to better serve patrons of all ages, especially younger generations.

According to a Portland State University study published by the American Library Association, 52% of Generation Z and millennial library users said they borrowed from digital library collections.

“We’re going to continue seeing younger generations who are used to being on their tablets, who are used to being on their phones,” says Samantha Mears, communications administrator for the Maricopa County Library District. “So we are going to continue shifting and making sure that we meet those needs because that’s what libraries do – they listen to their community and what they want.”

Arizona libraries have expanded their virtual offerings to include e-books, audiobooks, music and movies through platforms like Libby and Hoopla.

“One of the great things about the digital collection is that you don’t even have to come into a library,” says Jeff Howick, Litchfield Park Library branch manager. “So you could, on your couch, download music or books or audiobooks.”

MCLD’s online databases include platforms for career development, education resources and small business builders. In a press release, MCLD said these platforms were used nearly 800,000 times last fiscal year.

“That ranks us as No. 11 in the world, not just the country, of digital checkouts,” Mears says. “So we have a ton of super readers here in Maricopa County that are checking out a ton of e-books and audiobooks.”

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The homepage of the Greater Phoenix Digital Library.

The Greater Phoenix Digital Library is a public library consortium consisting of Apache Junction Public Library, Casa Grande Public Library, Glendale Public Library, Maricopa County Library District, Mesa Public Library, Peoria Public Library System, Phoenix Public Library and Scottsdale Public Library. By partnering together, the eight systems say they can offer a more robust and diverse collection at a lower cost to the libraries.

Despite the digital shift, libraries say they remain committed to inclusivity and accessibility.

In 2023, MCLD circulated over 7 million physical and digital checkouts, underscoring the enduring relevance of public libraries in the digital age. With free access to digital content for all county residents, libraries continue to foster a love for learning in the digital era.

“Libraries have always been there for everyone. We serve the entire community,” Howick said. “But I think in recent years, we’re trying to make sure that all of our offerings, our programs, our materials, have something that appeals to everyone out there. Not every book is for every person, but we do have a book for every person.”
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