Loose Ends: Readers through the seasons

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Amid stories of bailouts, job losses and economic mayhem, one recent national news story about the growth of library users throughout the county caught my eye.
It is not often that a negative — such as declining sales — produces a positive trend such as this one, but in the library featured on the news, things were hopping. Library usage appeared to be a loose term, and described the increase in the number of people who seemed to be stopping into the library for various reasons: to use the computer, read books or check out all varieties of library materials. One librarian interviewed said she believed that the increase in foot traffic was due to the fact that people weren’t subscribing to magazines or newspapers or buying books during this recession.
Meeker’s public library has always seemed well-used to those of us who frequent the place, so I asked Library Director Mike Bartlett if he had noticed a positive change lately. It seemed that the inherent change generated from their recent move from into their own building could generate a fake rosy glow or “false positive” as local folks checked out the library’s new digs, but I suspected that they were seeing much of the same increase.
I was surprised to find out that this is not the case, according to Bartlett. He didn’t seem to feel that the national trend was reflected locally, and our conversation left me questioning whether the news feature gave an accurate picture of the libraries across the nation. Bartlett’s circulation totals from the past 15 years don’t indicate a change in the number of books checked out in 2008.
“It has been a roller coaster‚” is how he describes the change in numbers documenting library users. The 25,000 check-out tally has gone down and up over the years, with the highest years tallying 26,000 books circulated in 1994 and 2007 and the lowest year tallying 20,000 books in 1999.
Although the library has not broken down the statistics to look closer at all of the categories of books in their collection, Bartlett notes that he and the staff have noticed that the local trend seems to be the increase in library usage by young adults. Staff member Angie Harris mentioned that they had noticed a big difference when they separated the juvenile nonfiction books from the adult nonfiction books.
While national merchandising trends indicate that sales of big ticket items such as computers is down, the use of the library computers has not indicated this change. Bartlett notes that the last three years Internet use has declined, so it would appear that most people are still purchasing their own computers.
While it may feel as if the library’s foot traffic is much heavier these days, Bartlett says that the new building’s room arrangement seems to generate that impression. Whether one is checking out library materials or not, every patron has to enter and exit by the front desk. Acknowledging that the Meeker Public Library has always had strong support from local readers, Bartlett says, “Our library users buy books, as well.”