Flying off the shelves: Library scrambles to keep pace with its success

2014-03-19T00:00:00Z 2014-03-19T21:18:13Z Flying off the shelves: Library scrambles to keep pace with its successBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

You may think more than 10 weeks after opening on Jan. 6 that the luster might have worn off the new Billings Public Library.

If you thought that, think again.

Even with little parking and one of the snowiest winters ever, the new library remains a popular Billings destination for readers of all ages.

Circulation, the issuance of new library cards and visitor numbers remain as strong in mid-March as they were in early January, said Kathy Robins, the library’s system administrator. And they’re well ahead of the figures from the same period last year.

“We’re seeing people who didn’t use the library before,” said children’s librarian Cindy Patterson on Tuesday morning, fresh from showing the library to a group of about 50 third- and fourth-graders from Ponderosa Elementary School. “I shudder to think what the summer reading program will bring.”

Last year’s program brought about 2,000 people to the old Parmly Billings Library. This year, it’s anybody’s guess, although some readers complete the program online “without setting foot in the library all summer,” Patterson said.

Consider these statistics so far this year:

— Monthly circulation averaged 58,469 during the first three months of 2013. This year — using March projections based on the first 16 days of the month — monthly circulation will average 73,491 books, DVDs and CDs, among other items. The figure has increased by about 3,000 for each of the three months in 2014.

— During the first quarter of 2013, library staff issued 1,373 library cards. This year so far, they’ve issued 4,112, or 78 percent of the total cards issued in all of 2013. About 50 new library cards are issued every day, down from the 64 or so issued per day during January. “We are watching those numbers,” Library Director Bill Cochran said. “We think they will make a large difference in our circulation.”

— During January-March of 2013, 71,953 people visited the library. To date in 2014, 81,192 patrons have visited.

Circulation increases have especially impacted the number of children’s books remaining on the shelves, Patterson said — so much so that a Books for Kids program that began a couple weeks ago seeks to raise money to purchase popular titles, including the Berenstain Bears books, the Llama Llama series and the Dear Dumb Diary series.

“Right now there’s a good chance that kids will be disappointed” viewing the emptier-than-usual shelves, Cochran said.

About $250 has been raised so far; donors can send a check made out to the Billings Public Library and marked for the Books for Kids program.

The statistics don’t measure all library services, Robins said, including the number of groups using the library’s community room for meetings and the number of e-books that readers have downloaded.

“Those numbers have gone up a lot,” she said.

Cochran said the library’s annual acquisitions budget of about $300,000 will be replenished once the new fiscal year begins July 1. Librarians tried to keep the number of new books to a minimum leading up to the library’s move last December.

“We did a lot of weeding out leading up to the move,” he said. The current paucity of books “is a temporary condition. Once it’s weeded less rigorously, that will naturally fill up the shelves. It won’t take long.”

Patterson said that while librarians want to catch up on purchasing book titles that are in demand, it’s also important that the collection stays current with children’s books that have recently won Newberry or Caldecott medals, awarded annually to the best authors and illustrators.

Cochran said library staff wants to get a year’s worth of experience at the new building — with its automated checkout and streamlined workflow for such workers as book-shelvers — before deciding “just what the new normal will be.”

Another big change will be the 100-spot parking garden set for construction by June on the site of the old library.

“Until we have parking in place and we know what the new normal is — and to what extent automation helps — we can’t know for sure,” Cochran said. “But it’s apparent that the community supports the new building. It’s a lot of fun to see new people coming in, and staff talks all the time about the smiles on kids’ faces.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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