Libraries remain relevant


Published: Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 11:45 p.m.

A decade ago, libraries appeared on the verge of becoming obsolete.

Dire predictions were made about how books would be left to crumble to dust in huge public buildings that no one would need to enter. Every scrap of information anyone could ever want would be available from the Internet on their home computers.

"But we're still here and we're busier than ever," said Chris Culp, the Adult Service librarian supervisor for Alachua County's public libraries.

Other public libraries nationwide have reached the same conclusion.

Results of a joint study by Pew Internet and American Life Project and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that young adults use public libraries the most. The study also determined that books, newspapers and magazines remain popular targets of library users - often equally or more popular than computers available to library patrons.

"The age of books isn't yet over," Pew Director Lee Rainie said.

Changes in how material checkouts have been tabulated over the years made it difficult for Alachua County officials to give exact details about increases in usage. Information gathered during most of 2007, however, showed local library usage mirrors that found in a recent national study.

The Pew study showed that 21 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 and 12 percent of the general adult population would turn to their public library for questions about health conditions, job and government benefits, and other issues.

The study determined that library usage declines as people get older.

While 62 percent of Americans between ages 18 and 30 regularly visit a library, about 32 percent of Americans above age 72 are regular library patrons.

Alachua County library officials said 17 percent of patrons had renewed or received new library cards between March and December of 2007, and library usage by those patrons had been tracked.

According to the library's data, patrons up to age 17 checked out 236,278 items; those ages 18 to 30 checked out 107,023 items; and patrons above age 30 checked out 100,324 items during the last 10 months of 2007.

Library public relations and marketing manager Angela Harris said the numbers probably aren't a complete picture of how the libraries are used but do provide some information.

"A lot of the people who already had library cards are not counted in that data and there are probably more children and teens and college students getting their first library cards here," Harris said.

"But this does show you that people are still interested in coming in to the library and checking out materials. At the same time, we do have heavy computer use every day," she said.

Library officials said access to computers connected to the Internet may be drawing people to libraries. Then while they are at a library, patrons also participate in more traditional library activities, such as finding information in resource materials and checking out books and videos.

Scott Smith, 37, who recently spent a couple of hours at the Headquarters Library downtown, said he has been a lifelong library fan for many reasons.

"That's where societies keep their information, in the library, so that's where I like to be," he said.

Karen Voyles can be reached at 352-359-5656 or kvoyles@gmail.com.

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