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Library statistics

Originally published in the Ketchikan Daily News, August 2010; written by Lisa Pearson.

The heat of the last two weeks might make it feel like the dog days of summer, but activity at the library has been anything but sluggish. We’ve just completed our biannual statistics gathering period, and the numbers show that we’ve been incredibly busy (we certainly suspected we were busy, but it’s nice to have it substantiated with hard, cold facts).

In July, we circulated almost 18,000 books, DVDs, audiobooks, magazines, graphic novels, ebooks, CDs, cassettes and VHS. That’s 1 ½ items for every man, woman and child in the borough. That number is not an anomaly, either; our average monthly circulation rate for 2010 is 16,235 items a month, which is 18% higher than it was 3 years ago.

One collection with which we’ve seen a huge upsurge in use has been our ListenAlaska service: a 63% increase from last year, and an 80% increase from July of 2008. Ketchikan patrons enjoy the convenience of being able to download ebooks, music and audiobooks for free from their home computer at any time, and our summer patrons have been especially thrilled to find this service available in “the wilds of Alaska”. In fact, we checked out more ListenAlaska titles last month than audiobooks on CD, nonfiction DVDs, or large print books. The yearly subscription fee for this popular service is paid for by the Friends of the Ketchikan Public Library.

People aren’t just grabbing their books and bolting for the door. They’re bringing their families to a wide variety of library programs: author visits, poetry readings, yarn bees, storytimes, films, tea parties, craft workshops and Family Nights. Cash-strapped families are looking for activities that they can all enjoy, and we’ve seen a 24% increase in program attendance since 2003. Although we do have to limit admission to some of these events due to space constraints, we try to accommodate as many people as possible. Our next ticketed event will be the Readers Pool Prize Party at the Mike Smithers pool on August 21st. The pool party will be from 5-6:30 pm, and tickets are still available.

For anyone who thinks that libraries are dying out because all the information is on the Internet now, I would counter with the fact that we’ve seen a 22% increase in reference questions since 2005. All that information on the Internet is making it harder to find the answers you need, not easier. It’s fast becoming a hunt for a needle in a haystack, and the library staff are specially trained to help sift out the wheat from the chaff (too many metaphors?). We answer over 30 questions a day from people who want to cook diabetic meals, start a small business, find their uncle’s obituary, travel to Hawaii, repair a hammock, reload ammunition or repair a cement wall. When pundits predict the demise of librarians, I just think about all the people who walk through the library door looking for help in an automated world.

And of course, trying to get all your information from the Internet only works if you have access to the Internet. In these tough economic times, there are many people who can’t afford a laptop and a DSL connection, or perhaps they’re unfamiliar with the technology. The Ketchikan Public Library provides free Internet access to people filing Permanent Fund Dividend forms, applying for Social Security or Medicare benefits, renewing their vehicle registration, filing their taxes, applying for a job, or even sending an email to the grandkids. We have over 1,000 people a month come to the library to access the Internet, get information and stay connected.

There’s one additional statistic that makes all the other numbers even more interesting: we’re seeing all this increased circulation, getting all these reference questions, providing all these people with Internet access with fewer open hours. The staff cuts that forced our Sunday closure haven’t affected the value of our services or their necessity in our small community. And that’s the best information of all.

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