During the Great Depression of the thirties movie theaters did well while other businesses struggled. The profit shown by cinema box offices today comes as no surprise since our nation is in an economic recession with foreclosures, business failures, layoffs, and a rising unemployment rate. But less expected is the rise in usage of public libraries.
The Door County Library system experienced a 7.95 percent increase in circulation in 2008 over 2007. In other words, almost 8 percent more books, CDs, DVDs, and videos were checked out from the Sturgeon Bay, Baileys Harbor, Ephraim, Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Forestville, Sister Bay and Washington Island libraries.
“In this economy comfort is important,” said Door County Library Director Becca Berger. “Books are a comforting friendship, and can be yours at no cost beyond tax support.”
But at this time of growing patronage, ironically, libraries face the reality of budget cuts and dwindling financial resources.
Door County library users are fortunate, Berger said, in that the County Board has treated the library budget the same as those of other services. In some other parts of the nation, the cities of Phoenix and Philadelphia for example, mandated services have been protected while nonessentials including libraries have been radically cut.
Although the present budget has been reduced, users should continue to enjoy the same level of service this year that they have experienced in the past. Berger explained that a retirement allowed the system to hire a lower level replacement because developments in technology changed the nature of the position. Next year might be a different matter, as libraries continue to experience a greater volume of usage and face still deeper budget cuts.
“What we are seeing more and more and where we anticipate more growth,” Berger said, “is in Internet users.” From 2007 to 2008 the libraries found a 14.73 percent increase in computer usage, in part because of people using computers for job searches and applications, she said.
“And we have a T1 line,” she added, “that provides a fast connection, an advantage for people who are on dial-up at home.”
All of the Door County libraries provide wireless access as well, not only bringing laptoppers into their buildings, but into their parking lots and onto outside seating areas during closed hours.
“Infosoup.org offers an incredible advantage for us,” Berger said, “in that we are in partnership with other libraries throughout northeastern Wisconsin. This increases the breadth of items we can offer.” And the service also contributes to the increase in library usage.
The interlibrary loan system allows a library cardholder to go online at home, search for a book or DVD, place a request, and then receive an email notification when the item has arrived at the library for pickup. (And a second email notification when the due date for return approaches.)
Berger recalls a recent article in a magazine that advised its readers, “For a great value for your home, get a library card.”
The loan system is a great value for local libraries as well, creating a synergy among member facilities that allows them to provide services that they might not have the skills or depth of staff or financial resources to offer on their own, and helps them to become more fiscally responsible as they need not duplicate items.
Library Systems, Berger explained, is a state level agency that oversees the delivery mechanism. Door County belongs to the Nicolet Federated Library System that provides the physical delivery of requested materials to all member libraries. “It would be an incredible cost,” she said, “if Door County had to pay.”
Usage statistics demonstrate that people value their local libraries as a source of ready information or entertainment, a means of Internet communication, and a social center for their community. Berger suggested actions that people may take to ensure that the level of service they have enjoyed continues during difficult economic times.
Perhaps the most obvious is to share with government leaders their feelings about the importance of their library. In particular, they can talk to their elected officials in state government State Representative Garey Bies and State Senator Alan Lasee about the need to provide state tax support for Library Systems, that agency that funds the delivery of interlibrary loan items requested through Infosoup.org.
“People can join the Friends of Door County Libraries,” Berger said, “a group of about 400 members who work to support library services in the county.”
Those who wish to help libraries financially can make direct contributions to Door County Library Fund, Inc., a 501(c)(3) tax-deductible donation.
And people who want their donation to be directed to their local library for a specific purpose, perhaps a memorial gift, will be given a form at their library.
The most effective library advocacy is available to anyone, regardless of income: patronage. “People can support their library by using its services,” Berger said, “and by letting us know how we are responding to their needs.” In short, people can vote for the continuance of library services by using their library cards.
As does this writer and his family who enjoy the new Sister Bay Library.
Branch Head Betty Curzon said, “It seems like we’re busy all the time! It seems like someone is always here. Sometimes we have people ask us if we’re giving away cookies, because the parking lot is full!”
Last year the library checked out 69,480 items, up 5,000 from 2007. “When we were in the old library,” Curzon said, “a big year was 28,000.” The new facility in Sister Bay opened in 2002.
While the modern building has contributed to the increase in usage, Curzon feels that the community is growing also. “I see hold names [library loan requests] that I don’t recognize,” she said, “a lot of new names.”
Another factor, she said, is the developing collection. “I think we are growing into our building,” she said. “The first year we were trying to catch up. We buy new DVD releases, and that part of our collection has mushroomed.
“Our main thrust now is popular adult fiction,” she continued, “our biggest circulation item as a whole.”
In addition she tries “to beef up the children’s collection.” One of the library’s missions is to provide “a preschooler’s door to learning.” Barbara Schall, one of two circulation assistant librarians, does storytelling along with arts and crafts for children.
Curzon also believes that as the community as a whole has become more computer literate, there are more cardholders using Infosoup.org for loan requests.
A number of people in the Sister Bay community show their support for the library by serving as volunteers. “A dedicated group,” Curzon said, “committed to helping with the library. They put away books, do gardening, help with programming – a whole raft of things happen because of the volunteers.”
Volunteers donate their time because they are aware of the sometimes unexpected services libraries offer. While the Sturgeon Bay Library has the good fortune to house the Miller Art Museum as a part of their facility, in addition the library has framed art prints available for check-out.
The Sister Bay Library not only hosts a book club, but also a Clearing genealogy class. A genealogy volunteer appears in the library Thursday afternoons to assist family history research.
The other six Door County libraries also offer unique services. Ask the people who use them or visit one and discover for yourself. And from the comfort of your home explore http://www.infosoup.org.