Duluth library use rises with increased hoursLibrary patrons have been making good use of restored hours at branch locations in West Duluth and Mount Royal so far this year.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Library patrons have been making good use of restored hours at branch locations in West Duluth and Mount Royal so far this year.
The numbers speak for themselves.
In the first six months of this year, since new hours took effect, traffic at both the Mount Royal and West Duluth branch libraries has jumped more than 50 percent compared to the first half of 2011, when the locations were open just 19½ hours per week.
Those branch hours were restored to 44 hours on Jan. 17, thanks to a referendum passed by city residents in November. Through that referendum, voters agreed to pay an extra $2.6 million in property taxes to support city parks and recreation programs. The dedicated park funding freed up enough money in the city budget to bump up hours at Duluth’s two branch libraries.
For the owner of an average-value $158,000 home in Duluth, the referendum adds about $5 per month to an individual tax bill.
Amy Greminger of Congdon considers the new dedicated tax a worthwhile investment in local parks and libraries.
“We’re heavy users of the library, and the amount of money it saves us far outweighs an extra $5 per month,” she said, as her 4-year-old daughter, Anna, and 5½-year-old son, Noah, prepared to check out a pile of books from the Mount Royal Library on Monday afternoon.
Duluth reduced its branch library hours a few years ago in the face of reductions in state aid it received.
The previously abbreviated and irregular hours often made it tough to remember the branch library’s schedule, according to Greminger said. “We never knew exactly when it would be open, and we had to plan around the library’s hours,” she said.
Olivia Nelson, 11, of Chester Creek, said visiting the library last year often proved a challenge.
“Sometimes I would come home from school, and I thought we could go to the library, but we couldn’t because it was already closing,” she said.
Now the branch libraries are open 10 a.m. to 6 or 8 p.m. every weekday.
Johanna Garrison, Nelson’s mother, said she’s pleased Duluth voted to support its parks and libraries.
“You have to invest if you’re going to have quality services in your community,” she said. “Some of my best memories as a kid are of going to the library and getting a stack of books. It’s a good place for children who want to learn, while still under some guidance.”
A recent citywide poll by National Research Center Inc. shows that public opinion of Duluth’s library system shot up as voters approved restoring branch library hours. In 2011, just shy of two-thirds of survey recipients rated city libraries “excellent” or “good,” but by 2012, 82 percent offered a favorable assessment.
Mayor Don Ness attributes the improved perceptions documented in the latest survey directly to the passage of the parks referendum in November 2011.
Carla Powers, Duluth’s manager of library services, expects traffic gains at the branch operations to hold, if not increase, during the third quarter of this year.
“The summertime is particularly busy for us, especially July,” she said.
Traffic at Duluth’s main downtown library has held flat during the first half of 2012, compared with the same period last year, according to Powers. She speculated that some people who had been using the downtown library before are making greater use of branch locations.
Even though 16 percent more people are visiting the libraries overall, the number of items in circulation increased just 3 percent during the first half of 2012. Powers said the circulation figures likely reflect the changing way that many people are using libraries today.
She noted that technology is allowing people to access library resources electronically. The circulation figures do not include 6,626 eBooks and 4,493 audiobooks downloaded between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year. Duluth libraries are able to offer eBooks in partnership with the Arrowhead Library System and the city does not include that data in its own circulation stats.
“The number of people using eReaders has been growing by leaps and bounds,” said Powers, who noted that the library has offered well-received courses on how to use the machines and access works from its electronic collection.
Many patrons have come to rely on libraries for Internet access, as well. Personal computers have provided crucial online access, enabling patrons to do research and even conduct job searches.
Al Johnson of Endion said he doesn’t have a home computer and relies on the library for access, where he regularly checks his e-mail account, explores employment opportunities and follows the news.
Johnson said he’s thankful for the branch libraries’ extended hours, even if it means higher property taxes.
“It seems that libraries are always one of the first things to get cut, along with music and art programs,” he said.
Johnson considers his community’s response to the restored hours at the Mount Royal branch telling.
“Whenever I come here, I notice a lot of people,” he said.
While computer time and electronic offerings continue to grow in popularity, Powers said they have not eclipsed the library’s main collection.
“Old-fashioned printed books are still the backbone of our operation,” she said.
Oddly enough, reduced hours may have galvanized community support for Duluth’s libraries.
“Perhaps going through the cuts made people more appreciative of their libraries and what they offer,” Powers said.