Growing in a time of need
The public library - it's close to home, it's full of entertaining and useful resources and it's free, which has made it a staple in many communities.
And it's those qualities that librarians think contribute to their growing popularity in an ailing economy.
While the summer months are always the busiest, area libraries across the board have reported a significant increase in activity this year.
This summer produced some of the highest numbers in both traffic and circulation the Johnson County Library system has ever seen, said community relations manager Marsha Bennett.
"Actually in July we had a record-setting month as far as number of visits and number of checkouts," she said. "In July we had 259,276 people visit our 13 library locations."
The number of visitors reported in July broke the previous record of 251,413 set in 2002, Bennett said, and they were up about 11 percent from last year. Circulation was up about 6 percent from last year and more than six million items total are expected to be checked out this year.
"We have a lot of free resources and I think people are taking advantage of that," Bennett said.
Tonganoxie Public Library, while in the middle of a director change, reported a steady increase of patrons as well. Staff member Jim Morey said former director Sharon Moreland was pleased with the number of people stopping in to use the library.
"If you take a look at the trend, the trend is up," Morey said. "We've had an increase in foot traffic."
While circulation at the Basehor Community Library almost doubled from 9,333 items in July 2007 to 15,975 in July 2008, assistant library director Jenne Laytham said most of its increased activity is probably related to its new 13,600-square-foot facility that opened in April. People have been coming in just to check out the new library, she said, but then they discover that the library has a lot more to offer than just books.
"I like the term 'rediscovering' the library," she said. "People are just amazed that we have DVDs, including current blockbusters."
Donna Baker, a Bonner Springs resident, was at the Basehor library Tuesday and said visiting the library because it's economical is something she's been doing it for years.
"I work at Books-a-Million and I just see books that I want and I come here because it's cheaper," she said.
She also commented that the new facility in Basehor was really nice, so a visit to the library is even more enjoyable.
Basehor patrons have "never had a place to sprawl," Laytham said, so in the past people would just check out items and leave. However, now with the seating areas, tables and the extra space, the small town library is able to offer many of the things larger city libraries have such as quiet study rooms, free WiFi and classes.
"It has a lot to do with us growing," she said, "but libraries are more in focus now."
Like the Basehor Community Library, directors at the Bonner Springs and Eudora libraries have paid close attention to the upswing in the usage of library resources.
Bonner Springs Library director Kim Beets said the library is anticipating the opening of a new facility in March, which will cause quite a bit of growth in visitors, but right now they have reached their capacity.
"Our checkouts and our usage has been pretty consistent compared to last year," she said. "But there are a couple of trends we're noticing. We have an increase in computer usage."
Officials with the Basehor, Eudora and Bonner Springs libraries said more people were coming in to use the computers to complete homework, search for employment and take care of other business such as e-filing during tax season.
"I know there's been more computer users," said Marlene Evinger, director of the Eudora Library. "I hear them (patrons) making remarks about getting their resumes submitted, so we assume that's what they're doing."
Patrons have also had a huge response to WiFi, said Carla Kaiser, director of the Basehor Community Library. Rural homeowners with higher Internet costs, those that work from home or just Internet surfers have been bringing in their laptops to use the service.
"I know that we have definitely seen more people and we've seen more people take advantage of our wireless," she said. "I think many are using the library for the Internet access, so they don't have to pay for it at home. They are opting to use the library's resources rather than having a monthly bill."
- Mirror reporter Estuardo Garcia contributed to this story.