Next week I’ll be attending a meeting that is supposed to give us an overview of the 2010 summer reading club plan.  Except “overview” isn’t a hip enough term, apparently, so this will be a “FAQ” meeting, instead.  One of my most frequently asked questions about our summer reading club program goes something like this:

Why is the number of registrants so important?  Why are we told every year that our registration numbers should increase by X% over the previous year, while holding steady would be just fine, thank you very much, because what’s really important is that KIDS AND TEENS ARE ACTUALLY READING.  But that isn’t the priority at all — the priority is that this year we need to show increases over our own statistics from last year, and our branch should do better than the other branches, and our network should do better than the other networks.  This year our network is supposed to show a 12% increase in registrations from last year.  Why and how?  Did we get a 12% population increase?  You know, even those OTHER public library systems, the ones that just get the attendance rolls from their local schools and enter every student into the library’s summer reading club, would pretty much hold steady in their registration numbers every year.  I mean, unless they start counting imaginary friends, or something.

Okay, technically that’s more than one question, but you get the idea.

And speaking of which, our network manager has asked our site manager to brainstorm with us about how we can improve our circulation statistics, which have recently dropped by a precipitous 15%.  I have several theories as to why our circulation stats are down:

  • It is easier to steal materials than check them out.  Especially with zero security in place.
  • Our less wealthy patrons (many of whom are unemployed now) have trouble paying off their fines, and we can’t clear those fines with the freedom that we used to have,  so these patrons stop checking out stuff altogether.
  • Our more wealthy patrons are getting sick of our inability to find materials that are supposed to be on the shelf, the increasingly long waits for reserves, and the incorrect messages they’ve been getting from the Millennium system.  Of course, ALL of our patrons are upset about these issues, but our wealthier pations have cars, which means they have more options.  It means that they are giving up on our library system and instead defecting to the library system in the county north of us.  I believe this for two reasons: because I’ve had several patrons tell me this to my face, and because the three branches in our network that had a drop in their circulation statistics are the three northernmost branches in our network.
  • Many of our patrons (perhaps most of our patrons?) use our library for things that don’t affect our circulation statistics.  They come in to use our computers, to use our wi-fi connection, to read the newspapers, to pick up tax forms, and to ask us for printouts of information from the internet.  The last category has become more and more prevalent lately.  Someone asks for information on a topic, and either they cut me off right away and clarify that they want the information from the internet and NOT FROM A BOOK, or they don’t tell me right away and when I find a book for them they look at me in an angry/upset/disappointed way and say that they don’t want it.  “Can’t you just get it for me on the computer instead?” Their reasons, when given, range from “I only need a couple of pages” to “I don’t want to read a whole book” to “I owe money on my library card and I can’t check anything out.”  I can’t even count how many of our patrons spend hours on end at our library every day (children and teens from school dismissal time until nearly closing and adults ALL FRIGGING DAY) and never check out a single item.

These ideas MIGHT explain why our statistics have dropped, but we’re supposed to be thinking of ways to drive those stats back up.  One suggestion was to strongly encourage patrons who visit the library for classes and programs to check out materials as they leave.  I already do this in the programs and classes that I run, but I often come up against the same problems I mentioned above.  Specifically, those would be a lack of interest (they enjoyed the booktalk / craft program / whatever, but not enough to actually check out a book) or a lack of funds (they owe more money on their cards than I am allowed to clear, so they can’t check anything out).

I dunno.  We’re still working on the brainstorming process.  Maybe we could put up a big sign by the front door that says “Please check out our books instead of stealing them”.  Or perhaps we could compromise and say “Check out one item, get one free.”