Community Forum: Libraries’ demise exaggerated

Editor’s note: This week’s writer is David Clark, director of the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury.
The other day a relative stranger, having learned that I was a librarian, announced with the certitude of the uninformed that, “Libraries aren’t really going to be around in another 10 years, are they?”
It turned out that this fellow hadn’t been in a library for years and certainly not in ours. He only read magazines and big town newspapers whose declining subscription lists were accompanied by well-publicized predictions regarding the imminent demise of the printed word. For him, this meant the demise of public libraries as well.
The fact is that Ilsley Public Library lent more materials this past fiscal year than it has in its 146 years of lending. In fiscal year that ended June 30, 184,010 items were loaned, 19 percent more than the previous year. Youth circulation now totals over 45 percent of total loans.
Overall, books accounted for 64 percent of our loans, movies 30 percent, and audiobooks 6 percent.
The computer circulation system which we share with Middlebury College reports that Ilsley lent 57 percent of all the loans in the system and the college lent 43 percent.
Seventy-five percent of what is borrowed at the East Middlebury library of Sarah Partridge is borrowed by Middlebury/East Middlebury residents; 62 percent of the Ilsley’s loans are made to Middlebury/East Middlebury residents. Cornwall residents borrowed 7 percent, the next largest town use.
Last year we helped almost twice the number of folks with questions than in the previous fiscal year. Use of the library’s databases rose 56 percent. There was a significant increase in the number of people researching their families’ histories through AncestryLibrary.com, which was started with a gift from our Friends of Ilsley Library group.
The number of persons attending library programs inside the building was up 14 percent; outside the building 56 percent.
The library loaned free passes to museums and state parks 68 times.
Twelve percent of readers used the self-check-out machine.
Interestingly, readers downloaded onto their personal reading devices almost as many books as were loaned through the East Middlebury library (2,070 and 2,139, respectively).
As of July 1, 2012, Ilsley had 4,688 members/card holders who were active borrowers, and177 graduates of Middlebury Union High School’s Class of 2012, 71 percent, had taken out memberships.
Since everyone is welcome into the building, with or without a membership, far more people than just members used a computer, attended a program, or read a newspaper. The number of people coming into the building rose 38 percent to 219,310.
Given rumors of our demise, you might well ask, “Well, why are things so great at the library these days?”
The answer lies in a dynamic community interested in the world, parents eager to introduce their children to the joy of reading, a stagnant national economy that encourages more people to borrow rather than buy, a terrific staff, and even the new bridge that makes the library and parking more accessible.
Yes, the world continues to change around us. Books will diminish as a percentage of public library collections. Reference books sitting on shelves are relicts of the past. Readers now borrow ebooks and audiobooks through the library’s website for their Nooks, iPads, and Kindles. Staff now help people create as well as research and copy. In other words these are great days for libraries. Boy, are they ever!

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