More people are using the public library

Published 8:40 am Wednesday, March 11, 2009

At a time when budgets are tight, the Albert Lea Public Library is serving more people and offering more services than ever before.

Library Director Peggy Havener said despite the library now being closed on Sundays, circulation and computer usage has continued to increase above last year’s numbers. And it hasn’t stopped yet.

Computer sessions are up from about 2,300 sessions in January of 2008 to 2,680 sessions this past January, Havener said. That equals out to 382 more sessions or 227 more hours of computer time used by patrons in January. Numbers were also up in February.

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“We have to remember this is also with us being closed an extra day,” Havener said. “For us it’s phenomenal.”

More patrons are coming to the library to get help filling out job applications on the Internet, she said, noting that some regional employers like Shopko, Wal-Mart and Target are only accepting online applications.

People who are filling out job applications do not have to have a library card to do so, Havener said. They can come into the library and explain what they need to do, and library staff can guide them through it. Staff make sure patrons have all the information they need to fill out the application before they begin.

“The next couple years are going to be so hard on everyone,” Havener said. “We just want to try to help as many people as we can to find a job and to stay in the community.”

If people need assistance by library staff on job applications they will be taken into the computer lab to use one of those computers. They do not have time limits.

In addition to the 10 computers in the lab, there are 10 public access computers for adults, eight for children and two for teens. Patrons can use the computers for an hour per day with a library card in good standing.

In addition to a definite increase in computer usage, there has been a noticeable increase in attendance at the library’s programs, Havener said.

Attendance at the library’s programs is also probably up 10 percent over last year, and this is just from the first two months of the year, Havener said.

In 2006 — which was the last full summer of children’s activities before the library renovation — there were about 1,100 children who participated in summer library events, Havener said. Compare that number with the summer of 2008 when there were almost 2,400 children who came to the events.

More than 11,000 children attended one or more of the library’s 567 programs or events throughout the year, she added.

To meet the increased need, programming has been expanded so that there is a family story time every Thursday night, and circulation in the entire library was up to almost 340,000 in 2008.

Library staff also deliver books to daycares and senior citizens, Havener said.

“We’re just a tremendous asset,” she said. “An average book costs about $25. People can come here and as long as they bring them back, it’s free.”

Circulation is also up in the library’s magazines, DVDs and audio books.

Havener said while some people say there are patrons who only come in for DVDs, she would beg to differ. Many times patrons may originally come in just for a movie but by the time they leave, they have a book in hand, too.

“It’s kind of our way to pull people in who might not ordinarily think about coming,” she said.

Getting people to check out books is one of the library’s key goals, she said.

Many of the programs and services the library is able to offer are made possible thanks to groups such as the Friends of the Library and the Fountain Lake Bookstore.

“We’re very fortunate to have a community that’s very good about helping us to make sure we have the same level of programming we’ve already had,” she said.

Though it will be a challenge to provide more staff to service an ever-increasing number of patrons, Havener said she’s hopeful everything will work out OK.

“We’re betting on that,” she said.