Library system looks to make Purdy, Miller branches ‘entertainment centers’

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Director: 'It's entertainment value people are coming in for'

In today's ever-changing world, organizations must continually evaluate what is best for its patrons, keep up with changing technology and trends, and conserving funds to continue operating efficiently.

For the Barry-Lawrence Regional Library system, it is no different.

To accomplish that ongoing goal, the system is currently evaluating a new strategy that would change the way two of its branches, Purdy and Miller, operate.

According to Library Director Gina Milburn, the two locations, which have some of the lowest foot traffic and circulation, would potentially be transformed into 'entertainment' branches. That process would involve stocking primarily items that patrons are checking out the most, and making renovations to branches to implement that vision.

"They are our lowest performing branches," Milburn said. "They just don't have that much in activity, circulation is very low, and we're paying for staff and the buildings to be open."

With the new strategy, each branch would focus primarily on stocking popular reading material and less general material, with more lounging, reading and studying space.

"We know the most popular items patrons in those locations check out include fiction, high-interest non-fiction like cookbooks, gardening, crafts, paperbacks, DVDs and books on tape," Milburn said. "Based on that data, we're thinking, 'Maybe this is an opportunity to try something a little different, as in stocking the newest and latest items, because it's entertainment value and things they do for pleasure that people are coming in for, not things that are research-related [as in the past]. The emphasis would be on making the latest items coming out available, and less emphasis on things that are older. The demand is what is driving everything."

The strategy is an effort to avoid closing the branches altogether, which, based on their low usage and the fact they are within five to six miles of larger branches, the library system has good cause. It has already taken measures to cut hours and staffing at its smaller locations, because, like any business, they can't justify paying multiple staff members and keeping the doors open several days a week with so few visitors.

"When I run the reports, about half of Purdy's card holders who have been active within the last year are going to the Cassville or Monett branches [because they're halfway between, which makes sense], and about a third to half of Miller's active users are going to the Mt. Vernon branch," Milburn said.

The average attendance for the last fiscal year for the Miller branch was 5,993, and for Purdy, 6,305.

Miller had 212 active borrowers, of which 70 used other branches, primarily Mt. Vernon, and 142 used the Miller branch. Purdy had 173 active borrowers, of which 86 used primarily the Cassville and Monett branches, and 87 used the Purdy branch.

Both branches have two computers each for the public and Wi Fi access for all. Miller averages about 50 uses of both per month and Purdy averages about 35 computer uses and about 20 Wi Fi users. Both branches do little programming, and of those, have very low attendance except for summer. Over summer, the Miller Branch works with the local elementary school and bring their classes to the summer programs.

The strategy will be explored further in the new year, when the library system plans to hold town hall-style meetings to collect input.

"We will be collecting community interest about what people think would help bring more foot traffic in," Milburn said.

Changing times have required the library system to adapt.

"Nowadays, kids get a Google laptop at school to do assignments, so they don't use printed resources anymore," Milburn said. "In the past, they would come in and check out a book, but now, they're doing research and assignments online. So, times have changed for the schools, and that's changed things for us. Also, kids don't come in after school like they used to, parents don't let their kids walk anywhere by themselves as much, or, they live too far out to come to the library. And no matter what times we stay open, we're just not getting the kids we used to have.

"So, we have to continually, like anyone else, keep up with things. At one time, we [all] had a landline, and now we have cable and mobile phones. And we used to buy books; now we buy ebooks and databases. So we've been asking questions like, 'How many borrowers do those branches have and where are they going?' And, 'What do we need to do to get more people to come in?'

Overall, the library system is in a better place than it was a year ago, when it hit a financial brickwall after a failed tax levy.

"We are doing better," Milburn said. "Not great, but better. We continue to look at ways to save costs. That, along with the increase from the reassessments put us in a better position. However, we are still treading water, and have to be cautious about adding new services. And, we still need funds for capital improvements, so, at some point in time we have to increase our tax levy."

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