Library circulation up despite less hours

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Director: People are finding ways to get to the library when its open

After making a decision in August to close their doors to the public on Saturdays and shutting off the lights a half hour earlier on week nights to conserve funds due to a failed tax levy, the Barry County Regional Library system has been met with much criticism from the general public and patrons to the library.

However, in the four months since, circulation numbers are increasing, according to Gina Milburn, library director.

In the board's September meeting minutes, it reported that in August, the first month the closures were implemented, its libraries were open 18.5 days as compared to 21.3 days last year.

The smaller branches, such as Eagle Rock and Shell Knob were only open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and the larger branches such as Cassville, Aurora and Monett, were open Monday through Friday during the same hours.

But, despite being open three less days, the board found that circulation was nearly even compared to last year, and average per-day circulation was higher.

In October, the library system was open an average of six fewer days compared to last year, yet average daily circulation was higher --1,741 this year compared to 1,435 in October 2015. The Cassville branch was first in circulation at 6,048; Monett second, at 5,840; and Mt. Vernon third, at 5,506.

In November, Monett was first in circulation at 6,475, Cassville next at 6,363 and Mt. Vernon third, at 5,684. The library system was open an average of five fewer days than in November 2015, but again, circulation was nearly the same as last year. Computer and wireless use were down with less days open, and E-material checkouts increased from 1,693 in November 2015 to 2,029 in November 2016.

Verna Fry, who coordinates youth services at the Cassville Branch Library, said she has no concrete explanation for the increase in circulation since the library limited its hours four months ago.

"I cannot pinpoint a reason why, if we're open less hours, that circulation has increased," she said. "Maybe because when something becomes more scarce, you make more of an effort [to access it]."

Milburn said she believes that people are adapting.

"I find it really interesting that our average daily circulation is actually higher than before," she said. "We have discussed this quite a bit, and think that people are just finding ways to get to the library during the hours we are open."

As for affecting programming, it hasn't all that much, said Fry, who has begun to take library services to the community, including local daycares and the Cassville Primary School.

"My numbers have gone up as far as program attendance, because I am doing outreach and leaving the library more," she said. "We've dropped most of the evening programs, like trivia and yoga, because are hours were cut. The crochet class on Fridays is well attended, and I had a story time earlier this week."

On Thursdays, the library continues to host an activity for children, but alternates it with others.

"We try to rotate it with Lego activities once a month, and a new release movie another month," Fry said.

Milburn agreed that programming had not been significantly impacted.

"Most of the programming that we traditionally do, like story time, is done during the day," she said.

Milburn said the library doesn't have to be open to host a program.

"The branches still have the option of offering a program on Saturday or in the evening," she said. "We have had a few that have done this like Eagle Rock in the fall and winter. Many of our branches have meeting rooms that can be used independently from the library.

"The one area that we have seen a decreased use in is computers. The computers and WiFi can only be used when we are open. So, the numbers for that are lower -- which makes sense."

Cheryl Williams, Cassville Branch supervisor, said the library still gets some complaints about being closed Saturdays.

"I wish we could be open," she said. "We have people in here right now applying for jobs, and it would be nice if they could come in and apply on Saturday."

Despite the scheduling not being ideal, people seem to be acclimating, she said.

"It's difficult when people are getting off work right when we close, but I think they're adjusting to it," she said. "I think kids aren't getting as much opportunity to come to the library as before because they are in school week days, and by the time parents get off work and get here, we're closed."

Some patrons have adjusted by going to other libraries.

"Some live in Seligman and work in Arkansas and chose to get cards there, so we have lost a few customers that way," Williams said. "But, for the most part, the people who used to come in on Saturdays are coming in a different day of the week, checking out more materials at a time, or don't stay as long. And a lot of those came mainly for the computers."

Each month since August, the library reported receiving little income, with expenses maintaining.

In October, it received a small amount of delinquent taxes, state aid (first and second quarter) and state equalization (first and second quarter). In the first part of December, the library received $228,370 in current and delinquent taxes, and anticipates receiving its biggest tax check in January.

In other business, the library system is planning a community survey to gather public opinion on library services and hours, has submitted an application for a grant to digitize The Wheaton Journal, is creating a mission statement, discussing forming a political action committee, and the possibility of pursuing another tax levy increase in April or August of 2017.

The next scheduled board meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 19 at the Pierce City Branch Library.

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