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Front Page » September 26, 2002 » Local News » Public libraries meet changing demands
Published 4,761 days ago

Public libraries meet changing demands

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Staff reporter

Price city librarian Norma Procarione assists patron Kathy Wortley with the process of checking out a book. Public libraries at locations across the state have experienced tremendous growth in patron visits as well as the circulation of materials available at the facilities during the last four-year period. The Price City Library is no exception to the mounting demand statewide, with more than one-half of a million visits recorded at the local institution last year.

At the beginning of the 1990s many people expected public libraries to go the way of the wagon wheel, buggy whip, typewriter, the drive-in movie and the dinosaur. The booming business of computers made it look like , within a few years, libraries would become extinct or at least used much less.

The electronic era of computers was supposed to replace books and other services libraries provided. Many experts anticipated that people would not visit the libraries because everything would be at their fingertips, in their own homes.

But the public libraries have survived by evolving and adapting to the changing environment. In fact, the facilities have thrived during the past decade.

In a recent copy of Directions for Utah Libraries, a statistical review was published that showed library use is up and has increased in almost every category measured.

Not surprisingly, some of the growth has taken place as libraries have become part of the purveyors of electronics by providing computers with Internet service.

Most public libraries, even smaller facilities, provide some kind of worldwide web access. The computer, rather than being the comet that killed the public library, has become its nourishment.

According to the newsletter, the number of stations installed at libraries has increased by almost 40 percent within the last three years and use has climbed 25 percent in the last two. Many library personnel report people lined up during heavy use hours to utilize the computers.

But what about books, the traditional mainstays of library patronage?

In the book category, a surprising revelation has come. People who predicted the end of the paper book were wrong, at least until now and into the immediate future.

Public library statistics show that in 1998 19,425,917 books were circulated. The numbers changed dramatically by last year, but went up instead of down; 2001 saw 24,591,944 books circulated.

Not only has the number of patrons increased, the newsletter pointed out that many items people are checking out at the libraries have also increased. The situation has happened despite the fact that library acquisition spending is down and that most libraries are limited in space. Therefore most new acquisitions that come in replace older materials that have to be weeded out. There is only so much shelf space.

Local libraries in the Carbon County area are experiencing similar growth in patrons and circulation despite the fact that, unlike the rest of the state, the areas population is relatively stable.

"The number of people coming in the city library and checking out materials has definitely increased over the last four years," explains Norma Procarione, Price city's library director. "And the Internet use is up, too. We actually do have people standing in line to use the computers sometimes and they often get anxious when they can't get right on a machine."

The official figures from the Price City Library shows some interesting figures, much larger than most people would suspect. Total visits to the library last year were 542,181.

The Price library personnel answered 3366 reference questions. The total circulation for the library for last year was 59,820 with a little over 20,000 of those items being children's materials.

More substantial growth has taken place at the Helper City Library where, two years ago, the regular patrons only numbered about 45.

"We now have 350 people using the library regularly," notes Helper librarian Debbie Petersen. "We also now have a circulation of between 1200-1300 items per year, where only a couple of years ago it was half that."

Petersen attributes the growth to the installation of electronic media at the Helper facility, including Internet computers.

"People now come in and use the computers, and then they check something out," states Petersen. "We're just more modern and that attracts people."

The newsletter points out that one of the major changes in public libraries to keep their names in front of people is also due to the outreach programs that a number of the institutions have put in place, such as story hours and literacy programs.

"We have our regular story hours on Wednesday (5 p.m.) and Thursday (1 p.m.)," explains Procarione. "We also now have another story hour on Tuesday where Dina Wise comes in with her yellow Labrador, Sunni, and tells stories to kids. This addition, with the dog there, has become very popular."

Other electronic media availability, besides computers has also increased.

In the 1960s, some of the most popular items that could be checked out from libraries were movie projectors, slide projectors as well as the movies and slides that ran on the machines.

Most libraries do not check out equipment anymore. But the growth of compact disks and video tapes have gone crazy as people are able to play them on their own equipment at home.

Libraries primarily lean toward providing educational materials on the mediums. But music and popular movies are also part of some the library collections in Utah.

The situation frequently makes for a debate amongst library boards and city/county councils/commissions across the state whether government institutions are competing unfairly with the private sector.

"We have public performance rights on all the CDs and videos we have," points out Procarione. "Most of what we have is educational and many of our CDs are books on disc. Few people want the books on cassette anymore."

Obtaining public performance rights on materials can cost a significant amount of money.

The local public libraries have small budgets for materials so the facilities do not purchase many items that require the same kind of increased cost.

But books are still the mainstay of libraries and the related costs are going up every year.

According to the Library and Trade Almanac, the average cost of an adult fiction hardcover book is $28.34, while all types of adult hardcover books average $67.32.

The School Library Journal reports that the average hardcover children's or young adult book costs $18.78.

Considering that any book a library buys is checked out or looked at many times in it's circulation life, the cost per use is very low and the public gets a bargain when they check one out or use it for any purpose.

Procarione and Petersen have applied for grants in the past to help supplement the collections, electronic media and programs at the local libraries.

Grant money sometimes comes from various government programs. But grant funding for libraries can also come from private agencies or foundations.

For instance, the first public facility that existed in Price before the present one was built in the 1950s was a "Carnegie Library."

The local facility was one of a series that was constructed primarily with funding from Andrew Carnegie, the 19th century industrialist who put into a foundation to build such institutions.

"We are presently working on a grant for literacy based education from Utah's Promise," stated Procarione.

While funding continues to stagnate from official sources, the use of libraries increases.

Despite the ongoing money problems, public libraries are still alive and busier than ever.

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