Denison Public Library sees surge in useage

Michael Hutchins, Herald Democrat
Abbey Perschall assists Martha Burling at the Denison Public Library on Monday. The Denison Public Library is reporting a 30 percent increase in patronage over 2016. (Drew Smith / Herald Democrat)

As the role of the library continues to evolve away from traditional services to encompass new technologies, the Denison Public Library is reporting a surge in patronage. Denison Public Library Director Kimberly Bowen said the library has seen a 30 percent increase in patronage and a broader audience than in the past.

“The profile of the average library patron has changed in the past year,” Bowen said Monday. “We are seeing a broader range in age, gender and economic class for library users. When we say that the library is for everyone…we really mean that there is something that everyone can find at the library to fulfill the desire of reading, entertainment, internet access, self-help, technology assistance or social desire. I think it’s simply that we are asking the community what they want from their library, and we are listening.”

For the first six months of 2017, the library has seen about 3,000 visitors a week, Bowen said. This includes 14,110 in May alone. By comparison, the library only saw about 7,637 in May 2016. This comes following a period when many libraries were in decline, Bowen said.

“We are now seeing people realize the value of their library and utilizing those resources again,” she said.

With this increase, Bowen said she has seen some patrons transfer their Sherman library card to Denison. As both libraries are a part of the Bibliographic Association of the Red River, patrons can check out resources from both locations. However, Bowen said some resources, including kits aimed at sciences and technology skills and free Wi-Fi hot spots, are restricted to Denison card holders.

When asked about the increase, Bowen attributed it to changes and expansions of the library’s traditional services. These services include more and broadened children’s programming, and other services aimed at adults. Other services range from movie matinees to the launch of the Lunch to Learn program, which offers talks by local doctors each month alongside a free lunch.

As a part of the expanding services, the library also launched a new music room in late May. This specialized space allows patrons to freely use available instruments for music lessons and community jam sessions within the library.

In many ways, this change in culture for the library system has involved setting aside many of the unspoken rules of what a library can be and what is expected, Bowen said in an email Monday. As an example of this, Bowen said the library has relaxed its rules on food and drink in recent years.

“With our Family Place Library we realized parents bringing their small children to the library for several hours at a time were being held to an unreasonable expectation by not allowing snacks,” she said. “We have offered programs such as our Food for Fines to assist the community with eliminating fees on their accounts that would prohibit them from using library services.”

When asked about the surge Denison is seeing, Sherman Library Services Administrator MeLissa Eason said some of the flow have come following the closure of the main Sherman Public Library building following a fire earlier this year. The fire coincided with an expected closure as the library to undergo a renovation and expansion, she said.

Despite this, Eason said she is also seeing an increase in attendance for its programming and summer reading programs. As the Denison Public Library has been testing fresh waters, Eason said Sherman is following suit with its own line of new services.

“We are making an effort to offer programming that people want and not just the conventional,” she said.

The increased patronage comes as Millennials, those between the ages of 18 and 35, are making more use of libraries than any other living generation in America, the Pew Research Center announced earlier this month. In a report, which covered the fall of 2016, the center found that 53 percent of Millennials have used a public library or bookmobile within the past year. Generation X, those between the ages of 36 and 51, followed at 45 percent.

This data did not include those who have used a school library or similar service.

The increase in Millennial patronage was attributed to increased services and access to technology and related education, including access to new 3-D printing technology.

“These kids are familiar with the fact that the library offers them the bandwidth and wireless access they might not get anywhere else,” Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, told CNN.

When asked whether this was simply a fad or a trend, Bowen said she expected this to become the new normal for the library. However, she emphasized that libraries must remain vigilant and continue to innovate with their services.

“I think with every change, if we can adapt to this, it will become our new normal,” she said.