Scenic Regional Library Director Steve Campbell is defending the library against criticism detailed in a recent survey.
The library last September mailed a survey to 4,500 residents of Franklin, Gasconade and Warren counties. The survey asked what residents think of the library, if staff are doing a good job, and what can be done better.
The library received 795 responses, about twice the average rate of response.
According to the survey, about three-fourths of those surveyed had used Scenic Regional Library at least a few times in the past year and 37 percent used the library once or twice a month or more.
The data didn’t surprise Campbell.
“The fact that so many people use the library might be news to some people who think that the Internet and e-books are making libraries obsolete,” he said. “Last year, our door count was over 300,000. How many businesses would love to have those numbers? We have e-books, Wi-Fi, high-speed Internet. Libraries keep changing with the times.”
The results showed that the most common reasons people visit the library were to check out materials (book, movie, book on CD, or music CDs), pick up materials they had requested, ask a librarian a question, or read a newspaper or magazine. Other top reasons included attending an adult program, downloading an e-book, using a public computer and researching genealogy.
The library’s own statistics backed up the survey results. The library checked out more than a half-million items last year. Library users logged almost 57,000 Internet sessions on the public computers in 2012 and conducted more than 28,000 searches on the library’s Ancestry.com subscription. In addition, e-book usage was up 30 percent this year.
The survey showed that a little less than half of library users visit the library’s website. The site had 132,000 visitors in 2012. The survey indicated that the most common reasons people use the website is to renew materials, check to see if the library owns a particular item, and request materials.
“Something that we don’t have for our website is a mobile version,” said Campbell. “We really need to have a mobile app for our online catalog to allow people to use it on their smartphones. This may be possible after we move to our new system.”
The library is joining a statewide consortium in January 2014, which operates with an open source system called Evergreen.
The survey asked residents to rate the library in 19 areas, including cleanliness/maintenance of facilities, up-to-date technology, courteousness of staff, knowledge of staff, accessibility for all patrons, and safety inside and outside the building. The vast majority of respondents rated the library good or very good in every category.
The results also indicated that people would like to see the library focus its resources on more print materials (books, magazines, DVDs, CDs), e-books and e-audiobooks, and programs for adults, children, and teens.
“We actually spend about 15 percent of our budget on new materials, which is what the Missouri Public Library Standards recommend,” said Campbell. “If you include our research databases in that figure, which libraries normally do, it’s closer to 18 percent.”
The library added almost 20,000 new items systemwide in 2012.
“Unfortunately, when you divide all those new items up among seven branches, and you have tens of thousands of people wanting to use them, it doesn’t seem like very much,” he said.
The survey included a few open-ended questions, such as: “What do you like most about your library?” The most common response was staff or friendly staff.
A Few Criticisms
Other questions were: “What do you like least about your library?” and “If the library could make one improvement, what should it be?” This is where the library received the most criticism.
“With both questions, there were three common themes to the responses,” he said. “People weren’t happy with the amount of new materials we provide, the number of hours we’re open, or the quality and size of our facilities.”
Over 60 percent of respondents said that they either wanted more new materials, longer service hours or improved or larger facilities.
Campbell said the funding is not there to address all of the criticisms.
“While it would be nice to provide more new materials, better and bigger facilities, and longer hours, we simply can’t afford to do it,” he said. “We still have the same tax rate that we did in 1959. The schools, ambulance districts, fire districts, they’ve all been steadily getting tax increases over the past 50 or 60 years. The average school district’s tax rate in Missouri has gone from $2.37 to $4.03 during that time. We’re still sitting at 10 cents. You can only do so much with that kind of money.”
The Missouri State Library’s Missouri Public Library Standards recommend that public libraries operate with at least a 20-cent levy. Public libraries in Missouri receive 96 percent of their funding from local property tax. Unlike schools districts, public libraries receive none of their funding from the federal government.
“Average homeowners only pay about $17.25 a year in taxes to the library,” Campbell said. “We provide people with an enormous number of services for that relatively small amount of money. A new hardcover book costs $28. People check out one book, or attend one adult program, or bring their children to one program, and they’ve made their money back for the entire year. You can’t say that with most other government entities.”