Dynamic Duo Helps Provides Digital Access

Johnson County Library is lucky to have a dynamic duo who are dedicated to providing patrons with the best possible access to electronic Library materials (known generally as eResources).

Samantha Chinn and Hope Harms collaborate beautifully on this ever-expanding digital side of Library services. They are the “Charms” team — a mashup of their last names that captures their collegial working relationship.

They help curate a vast array of online materials, educational services and databases. While physical books and materials are still integral to what libraries do, the world of digital materials has become equally important, especially in the past five years. Patrons may be surprised to learn that nearly half the Library’s collection budget is now devoted to electronic resources.

Chinn was named eResources Collection Specialist in June 2023, after serving in a similar role for Kansas City, Kansas Public Library. She was thrilled to join Johnson County Library, where she watched her mother, Rhonda DuPree, work behind-the-scenes for decades as a page at multiple branches.

“I have a history with Johnson County Library,” she said. “I saw all the back end. I think that’s why I wanted to be a Librarian.”

She’s devoted to the task. “There’s so much to learn,” she said. “Johnson County is such a big system and supports so many people. I’m just excited to grow the collection and really learn about the community and what they want.”

Harms served as eResources Librarian from 2017 until June 2023. Over that time, it became apparent that demands for digital resources were changing, so Harms took on a new role last year as Digital Access and Cataloging Specialist. She works closely with the IT, Web and Technical Services teams to support digital access to the physical collections and eResources. She also elevates materials to make them easier to find online.

“I like to describe my role as focusing on digital access and discovery,” she said. “We are pushing more into spaces where patrons already are. So, if they are already searching Google, maybe we can get those collection items coming up in a Google search.”

This is a new frontier for Libraries, Chinn explains. It builds on the tremendous growth in patron use of eBooks, eAudiobooks (even more popular than eBooks), digital publications, eLearning, online research, and streaming video.  

Not surprisingly, digital usage spiked in spring 2020, when physical branches closed for the pandemic, and the upward trajectory has continued from there. Johnson County Library’s reports to the State Library of Kansas show digital uses (or checkouts) jumped from 652,922 in 2021 to 738,918 in 2022 and to 1,151,724 in 2023.

Much of that increased traffic is attributable to the Library’s transition in May 2022 to the Libby platform by OverDrive, which provides excellent eBook and eAudiobook choices.

“People love the user experience,” Harms said. “Our patrons are gobbling it up.”

Chinn works diligently to respond to patron requests for new materials. Recent acquisitions include the digital version of The Economist (no longer in the Library’s print collection) and more content from Candid, a nonprofit foundation directory. She is trying to acquire the digital version of The Wall Street Journal and is exploring additional Genealogy resources.

Harms and Chinn regularly compare notes with their counterparts at Olathe and other metro Library systems, sharing trends and ideas. They also get invaluable help from the Collection Development department and from front-line staff, to know what people are seeking.

“It’s taking all the things we are able to curate for our collection,” Harms said, “And gathering and ensuring we are a well-oiled machine on the back end, so people can reliably access it and make it easier to find.”