Library use is up, spending downThe wait for Washington County library services may be longer next year as the system sees more activity with a smaller budget.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
The wait for Washington County library services may be longer next year as the system sees more activity with a smaller budget.
That’s the prediction of the top library administrator who says more people are walking through the doors of county libraries, but a tight budget could mean longer waits for books and for librarians’ assistance.
“It’s going to be a very significant challenge,” library system director Pat Conley told county commissioners last week.
The system’s nine branches expect to spend 3 percent less in 2010 than in the current year. Library spending is estimated to be $6.57 million in 2010, down from $6.73 million this year. A preliminary budget plan shows county property tax revenue directed to the library system will drop about 6 percent.
That funding plan — designed to fit within budget parameters set by the Washington County Board — comes as the library system has seen an average of a 2 percent increase in circulation and visits across all branches.
“People still are reading, they’re still listening to music and they’re still watching DVDs,” Conley said in an interview. There also is steady interest from patrons who want to use library computers to access the Internet, she added.
Conley said there are three factors behind increased activity at local libraries:
- People are choosing to borrow, not buy, books because of the economy.
- Libraries instituted an automatic reminder notice, prompting more online book renewals.
- Libraries are doing a better job at buying materials people want.
Local use up
Circulation increases at two local libraries are far above the system average.
In the first eight months of this year, circulation at Woodbury’s R.H. Stafford branch increased nearly 7 percent over the same period in 2008. In August alone, the increase was 12 percent over last year.
“It is unusual,” Conley said of the double-digit increases.
R.H. Stafford continues to be the busiest library in the county system and is the sixth busiest library in the Twin Cities.
The Park Grove branch has experienced a similar bump in usage. In August, circulation was up nearly 11 percent over the same period in 2008. That was up from a more modest 3 percent increase in July, but June saw an increase of almost 10 percent when compared to June 2008 circulation.
Visits, too, have increased. Park Grove saw 11 percent more patrons in the first seven months of the year when compared to that period in 2008.
Those increases in circulation and visits came as the library cut back its hours this year, from 58 hours a week to 49 hours.
“That just blows me out of the water, that Park Grove has seen an increase in usage,” Conley said.
The situation is a bit more complex at the Valley Branch in Lakeland. That library saw its weekly hours cut this year from 28 to 20 and its circulation dipped as a result, assistant librarian Phyllis Kittle said.
However, patrons still want to use the library’s resources. Kittle said more people are going to the Lakeland branch to read books, newspapers and magazines during their visit, perhaps in part because of the economy.
“Maybe they’re not subscribing to those magazines anymore,” she said.
Despite working with a smaller budget, Conley said there are no plans to reduce hours at any of the libraries in 2010. That is not effective, she said, because cutting hours simply results in a higher demand for service when the library is open.
While county spending may be reduced, the libraries are promoting a few new programs that are supported by state and regional funding.
The system this month started participating in an online homework assistance program. Students can go on the Internet between 1 p.m. and 11 p.m. and seek help from academic tutors through the library Web site.
Another program provides around-the-clock reference help over the Internet. The program connects patrons to Washington County librarians or librarians from outside the area.
“The thing that’s good and the thing that people should feel pretty positive about is online tools,” Conley said.