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Posted: July 21, 2008 in Uncategorized

July 21, 2008

Libraries show long shelf life

They’ve gone far beyond books to thrive as hip hangouts

Thom Gabrukiewicz
tgabrukiew@argusleader.com

Even in the age of the Internet, when instant information is a mouse click away, the vastness of the Web hasn’t swallowed the humble, hometown library.

Certainly not in Sioux Falls, Irene or countless other cities across the nation.

In most places, library traffic is up – in some cases, way up – fueled in part by the lure of free computer use, according to experts and a Gannett News Service analysis of state data.

Books remain a staple, but libraries also offer DVDs, CDs and electronic audio books playable on portable MP3 devices. And many libraries allow readers to reserve and renew items online.

So even though the Internet was supposed to send the local library the way of the eight-track tape and pay telephone, they’ve become hip hangouts with free wireless Internet hot spots, classes and programs for children, teens and adults and banks of Internet-ready computers.

“The Internet brings people into the library,” said Dan Siebersma, state librarian for South Dakota. “But it also brings the library out to people. With the Internet, anything can be out there – good, bad or indifferent. Libraries offer a quality database that people can trust and access.”

A recent Pew survey found that more than half of Americans – 53 percent – visited a library in the past year. Most interestingly, the Pew survey revealed that people between 18 and 30 were most likely to be repeat visitors.

David Osuna of Sioux Falls, 21, is one of those repeat visitors. He was at the Sioux Falls library on Thursday. “I mostly come on the weekdays,” he said while flipping through magazines. “When I’m not at work, I’ll come over and hang out.”

Across the nation, the GNS analysis found:

 

  • Visits to libraries increased overall about 10 percent between 2002 and 2006 to about 1.3 billion.
  • Circulation, or how often library visitors check out print or electronic materials, increased about 9 percent to 1.81 billion during the five-year period. 

     

  • Nationally, library spending on day-to-day costs such as staffing and materials was $31.65 per person in 2005.

    In Irene, with a population of 436, visits to the Irene School/Community Library rose more than 2,000 percent, from 400 in 2001-02 to 8,752 in 2005-06.

    The visitor increases stem mainly from the library’s merger with the school system in 2002. It also went from having no Internet-ready computers to seven in 2005-06. 

    “Kids are finding out that that the library is a really nice place to go on a hot summer day – and being in a small town, they found out quickly that there’s not a lot of competition for the things they want to utilize,” librarian Sharron Hinseth said.

    In the Sioux Falls library system, circulation grew 21 percent from 2003 to 2007, while computer use grew 110 percent, according to librarian Sally Felix.

    But as libraries grow across the country, budget pressures on cities and counties that provide most of the funding have forced dozens of them to cut back hours or close. Between 1999 and 2003, 134 libraries shut their doors for a variety of reasons, according to a study by Florida State University’s GeoLib research program.

    In South Dakota, budget restraints seem to be the exception rather than the rule. That’s especially true in Sioux Falls, where the city library system includes four branches and a bookmobile and operates on a budget of $5.4 million, with an additional $500,000 for materials. The main library is starting a 19,500-square-foot, $12.8 million expansion to be complete by 2010. And there are plans to add a fifth branch by 2012 on the city’s west side, near Memorial Park.

    “Like the city, we have to be smart about growth, how to manage that growth where we’ll be most successful,” Felix said. “This library system has always been progressive. We’ve been pretty quick to come onboard with new things.”

    That focus has branched out into Minnehaha County, where rural library circulation has increased by about 18 percent since 2003, Felix told the Minnehaha County Commission in February.

    “The Internet has opened up an avenue for research at small libraries,” Siebersma said. “In the past, small libraries either had the printed materials or they didn’t. With the Internet, there’s always access to some really good database material.”

    Reach Thom Gabrukiewicz at 331-2320. Gannett News Service contributed to this report.

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