Friday, March 26, 2010

Questions on Library Use

The plans for building a new library (AKA- knowledge center, resource center, discovery library) has created a lot of talk in the town. It seems much of the talk centers on how many people really visit the library and that there is some magical number of visitors (and types of visitors) that means we should or should not build a new library. Just to clear up any misconceptions on the way we count visitors- we have a people counter at the front door and every morning before we open we take the number from the day before and log it, that number is divided by 2 (they come in they go out) and recorded. Staff and volunteers access the library through a rear staff door. There are varying levels of sophistication with these type of counters but in my 23 years of experience, the way we do it is pretty much how libraries get attendance figures- are there errors possible? sure run in and out? sure...

In case anyone would like to see that raw data here it is from July-2009- Feb 2010:

Library Attendance July 2009- Feb 2010

July 25370 25 days = 1014
Aug 25224 25 days = 1008
Sept 25359 25 days = 1014
Oct 29571 26 days = 1137
Nov 21287 22 days = 967
Dec 20733 25 days = 829
Jan 21346 24 days = 889
Feb 22216 23 days = 966

So about 1000 a day- some days more- some days less, but its just ONE measure just like books checked out, Internet sessions, requests for information, attendance at programs, use of databases, downloaded books, Summer Reading, book sales in the Friends store...the list of things we do (and count) goes on and on.

As I work this afternoon I see a mostly full parking lot despite the fact people must navigate construction barriers and cones to get here. I know the question of use isn't debatable- people use this library.

Rather than questioning numbers and casting aspersions on their validity I would ask people to spend more time thinking of a new library in a holistic way- how does our current library add to every one's quality of life? How might a bigger technologically advanced library benefit everyone? And the really big question: IF we don't take advantage of this very unique opportunity to improve and expand library services what will that say about us as a community and where our priorities are?

Some have said the community answered the question about a new library in 1998- 12 years ago, by about 400 votes the community said "a bigger library is not needed". Has the question really been permanently answered? Did the 18 year old and older voter get to make that decision for everyone in perpetuity?

I'll close with a quote from a new study about Internet use in public libraries which says:

Americans across all age groups reported they used library computers and Internet access. Teenagers are the most active users. Half of the nation’s 14- to 18-year-olds reported that they used a library computer during the past year, typically to do school homework.

The current library has eight Internet computers for kids of all ages not just teenagers, a community our size should have at least 40 available and space for kids to be kids. The truly inadequate library space for our young people is very, very hard to dispute- I believe we have the most undersized library for our population in the state, but for kids we are hands down the weakest in our state, and that should matter.