Circulation at the Lincoln County Library plummeted in 2021, but given the pandemic and other disruptions, principal Alyssa Ramirez said document release was not the best statistic to measure success.
“As far as traffic is concerned, I’m not going to see how it compares to years past,” she told commissioners in a ministerial update on September 15. “It’s been a strange few years.”
Among the three library branches, document flow has increased in Eureka, from 13,712 at the same time last year to 17,570 this year. But declines in Libby and Troy more than offset gains in northern county, meaning circulating materials have fallen by 6,671 across the county in the past year.
“It’s definitely less than what we’ve been doing in recent years, but given the closures, COVID, etc., I think we’re doing extremely well,” Ramirez said.
Despite the service disruptions – customer visits declined significantly in fiscal 2021 – she said local readers are taking advantage of the Montana Library 2GB program, which offers e-books and audiobooks.
Ramirez spoke about the digital efforts of the library system, in particular the adoption of Beanstack, an application available to patrons. Using the app, librarians can organize literacy challenges and connect with local readers, she said.
For example, the system runs the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, which encourages parents and guardians to read to their children, Ramirez said. Another is the 10 to Try, which challenges adults to broaden their horizons.
The Library System also launched this year’s summer reading program on the app. The program encouraged reading, but also activities. Ramirez called it a success, saying the county’s best young reader – an 8-year-old from Eureka – spent 9,000 minutes reading during the warmer months.
“All these [programs] are going to be all over the county, ”she told commissioners. “It was also the advantage of this application. You don’t need to have a library card. You download it and tell it which branch would be yours and you’re good to go.
Upon registering, children receive a welcome bag with a book, information materials and other freebies, she said.
Ramirez credited the library’s collaboration with Zero to Five Lincoln County, a community organization focused on helping children and families, with a boon during the pandemic.
“I love to see all of these collaborations between all of these entities,” County Commissioner Brent Teske (D-1) said. “It’s great to see them all together.
Ramirez also touted the library system’s mobile device loaner program. The organization’s 25 mobile hotspots, funded by the Montana State Library, are particularly popular and generally verified, she said. The county is fifth in Montana for traffic and second for total data usage, according to data compiled by the state library.
“A lot of people obviously use it for entertainment – streaming – but families use it for homework, for job hunting, banking and telehealth,” Ramirez said. “So many of these things are posted online.”
With around 19% of the county’s households without internet access, hotspots provide a vital link to the outside world, she said. As state funding for hotspots expires in 2020, Ramirez said his staff are looking for other ways to support the program.
“I like to think they help a lot with that, help relieve some of that stress,” she said. “More and more, our world is based on the Internet, on the virtual, all of those things. We’re excited to be able to release them until 2022. We’re definitely going to consider funding that beyond that. They are popular.
In addition to its electronic offerings, the Lincoln County Library added four laptops for payment. Two are kept in Libby, with Troy and Eureka branches receiving one each, Ramirez said.
The agency also received four iPads, but complications with erasing data between users delayed the loan process, she said.
The library operated on an operating budget of $ 416,280 in fiscal year 2021. The lion’s share of $ 393,527 came from the county, although an additional $ 11,488 arrived through state aid. Staff costs amount to about 70 percent of the system’s annual appropriations, with the remainder being spent on materials, utilities, insurance, maintenance, subscription technology, programming and training, among other expenses.