From the Director
Library news and happenings.
Congressman Fred Upton visited KPL last week. He presented a book for our collection on Africans Americans in Congress and we told him about some of our services. I stressed the ongoing theme: library business is up in tough economic times when library funding is down.
Our first stop was the Ready to Read office, our early childhood literacy program. Rep Upton has read to children at previous events; we could quickly review it and thank him for his support.
Next we walked through our public computer area; almost all were in use. He chatted with a patron and invited him to keep in touch via Facebook.
We showed him our ONE place @ kpl, our new nonprofit management support center to be launched in March. He understood the challenges facing many nonprofits and was pleased about the financial support from local foundations to fund this center at KPL.
As we walked to the computer lab, we told him about our job skills classes. A class was in session. He told the students about his support for libraries and technology; they then shared their appreciation for our free classes, the helpful learning environment, and the variety of job skills classes. One student described how the classes have helped her start a small business.
We ended with a quick walk through of our children’s room and he spoke briefly with a young girl about her reading. She wasn’t too interested in talking, but she sure hung on to her library books! She may not have wanted to talk, but she sure wanted those books!
The visit was short, about half an hour. We welcomed the chance to highlight some services and invited him to return anytime.
Of course I hope you will visit soon too. Consider this your invitation!
Congressman Fred Upton
In early January, the focus of The Diane Rehm show on NPR was the role of libraries in economic hard times, an increasingly timely discussion. Her guests were the directors of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and the D.C. Public Library, and the president of the American Library Association, an academic librarian.
They all described increases in visits, registrations, computer use, program attendance, and circulation at the same time their revenues are decreasing. Listeners who phoned or emailed in shared similar stories from their local library; folks are turning to their public library for services and materials they might have looked for elsewhere previously.
Our experience is similar. AV materials…DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, digital media…have experienced the highest increase. Circulation is up almost 40% at the central library; close to 30% across all KPL locations for the nonprint materials.
We purchase the films shown by the Kalamazoo Film Society and have established a Hot Picks on DVD collection with current, often just-released titles. As always, there is no charge to borrow an AV item, including new titles. You just need a library card. Those not on the shelf when you visit can be reserved. Just ask any staff member.
And come visit soon to browse our AV items….at any location or on our website.
In recent blog postings, I’ve written about the increased use of computers in these tough economic times. KPL offers 120 computers for patron use at our five locations. At the Central Library, three public computers are reserved for resume writing and to file for unemployment benefits. Another 15 are primarily for word processing, others provide subscription databases, and the remaining ones are for general internet use.
Patrons sign in to use these computers with their library card barcode. Guest passes are available for those without a card. Upon logging in, patrons are asked to read and agree to our “Internet and Computer Use Policy.” Patrons and guests may use a computer for up to two hours per day. With so many computers, turnover occurs frequently, and patrons typically don’t have to wait very long.
Each patron decides how to use their two hours, within the guidelines of the library’s computer use policy. Library staff members do not judge the value or importance of an individual’s computer use. Time limits are monitored by software, but staff may override the limit if necessary for a patron to complete a job application, an employment filing, or similar use.
Do come visit and use KPL’s computers for class assignments, completing job applications, filing for unemployment, preparing a resume, checking your email, surfing the internet, online shopping... whatever your computer interests and needs might be.
Library staff talk about “power users,” those patrons who visit several times a week, use many services, and check out lots of books and AV materials.
I recently saw the results of a study done at an Ohio library that found that 8.3% of their patrons accounted for 61% of their circulation. Wow….they have some real power users there!
We don’t have corresponding statistics but I would guess our power users don’t account for that large a percentage of our total circulation. Of course it begs the question of “what defines a power user?” Library staff might say, we can’t define them, but we know them when we see them!
Come visit and check out as many or as few materials as you want. You can be a power user….or just a regular user!
Research your favorite topic at the library
In her “State of the State” address last week, Governor Granholm announced her intention to eliminate the Department of History, Arts, and Libraries (HAL). What that will mean for Michigan libraries of all types is not yet clear and likely will not be for several weeks.
When the Governor issues her proposed budget, we will know if state aid to public libraries and the Library of Michigan are slated for cuts. We should know if the entire department will be folded in elsewhere in state government, if it will be divided, if it will be totally eliminated. Some federal money funnels to libraries through the Library of Michigan... how will that be handled? And what about the electronic databases provided to us with federal money through the Library of Michigan? How about MeLCat, the state wide catalog through which interlibrary loan is carried out?
There are many questions yet to be answered within the scope of an expected $400 million deficit for this state this budget year and $1 billion for next year. These library questions are just a few.
At KPL we continue to monitor state funding developments closely and look for economies in our operations. These are challenging times for everyone.
Do come visit soon, though. We are continuously adding new print and AV materials to our collections and offering programs for all ages.
State of the State address
In just the past 24 hours, I have heard or read seven national news stories about the role of libraries in these challenging economic times, often when library funding is being cut.
All of the stories stress that people turn to libraries for help with a job search, computer classes, free wifi, free family programs, books, AV materials… the list goes on.
In many of these communities, especially ones in which the library is part of city government, the library has experienced major financial set backs and been forced to reduce hours, lay off staff, close branches at the same time the need and demand for library services is exploding.
KPL is a district library and directly responsible to the voters. Our revenues are flat this year….state aid has been reduced, interest income is flat, there is limited growth in our property tax base. We are trimming some “backroom” operations, not filling some staff vacancies, continuing to look for efficiencies in our processes. We have not had to reduce hours, close branches, or drop entire services.
"...more people are re-discovering the value of the public library.” (CBS News)
As with the libraries mentioned in these national news stories, our use is up in all areas: our total circulation is up 10% so far this year, AV over 20%; patron assistance is up 22%, computer use over 50%. Program attendance is strong too.
I am often asked about our funding. We will have a millage renewal vote on May 5. This is our basic operational millage approved by the voters 20 years ago. It provides about 95% of our revenue. Its renewal will allow us to continue to provide these services: materials, programs, branches, computer classes among many others.
Come visit soon!
In Recession, Libraries Are Booming
Last week the Kalamazoo Gazette had an article “Of Giraffes and More: Fielding Questions on the Reference Desk.” The reporter had asked several of our reference staff for the most interesting question of the year. What a challenging question to ask our staff AND what challenging questions they have answered!
As reported in the article, we had a record number of questions last year: 192,580 to be exact and patron assistance in all categories, included reference questions, is up about 20% so far this year. We too are experiencing the national trend of an increase in library use in all categories during challenging economic times.
Some had predicted a decline in the need for reference assistance at public libraries with home internet access and the advent of websites like Google and Wikipedia. That is not happening at KPL, nor at libraries generally. Business is booming! Patrons need help defining their search strategy and finding authoritative sources.
We can help. Our staff has reviewed many, many websites, selected the best ones, and arranged them in 49 categories or topic guides. We continually add new categories and add additional resources to the current ones.
Come visit soon…..or go to our website or call or email with your reference questions.
Of giraffes and more: Librarians field complicated questions on the reference desk (Kalamazoo Gazette)