Since enrolling in Bartholomew County Public Library’s summer reading program, 9-year-old Blake Barker has traded time playing video games for books.
Reluctant readers at first, Blake and his sister, Lauren Barker, 6, now cannot get enough of reading, said their baby sitter Laura Williamson.
“I have to make them set (their books) down just to eat dinner,” Williamson said.
Despite the increasing popularity of e-books and e-book readers and declining library usage nationwide, Bartholomew County’s library is bucking the trend.
Jason Hatton, library assistant director, said the adult summer reading program is experiencing its “best year ever,” with 678 adults and teens participating.
Blake and Lauren have logged more than 500 reading hours each as part of the children’s program.
On their third visit to the library in one week, Williamson said the children usually first check up on the children’s section’s pet tortoise, Bartholomew.
Blake, whose favorite books are ones in the “Star Wars” series, said proudly that he has been to the library at least 10 times so far this summer.
“It’s really unique how it has tons of books,” he said.
Beth Booth Poor, library director, said library membership has increased steadily over the past five years.
At the end of 2010, library members included 53,334 adults; 9,916 teenagers; 13,362 children under age 13; and 410 teachers, she said.
Poor attributes the success to the economic downturn and more popular offerings, such as large-print books and downloadable e-books.
“Families are looking for free things to do, ways to not buy their DVDs, CDs and music,” she said. “(The library) has a lot of programming as well. They’ve discovered we have many other things to offer besides traditional books.”
In 2010, circulation was up 7 percent from 2009. And 2011 is already running ahead of 2010, Poor said.
Popularity of downloadable e-books and music, which began last year, and the audio books, which started in 2008, is rising most quickly, she said.
“Libraries need to realize that people are wanting to get their information electronically,” Poor said. “They’re not just brick and mortar places.”
With the library’s online offerings, such as e-books, songs and magazine article databases, patrons can use the library’s services around the clock, she said.
“In the middle of the night, if you want an e-book, you can just download it,” Poor said.
The library’s increasing popularity comes at a time that its budget, funded entirely through local property taxes, is shrinking.
Poor said this year’s $2.5 million budget has declined steadily since an all-time high in 2007.
Digital offerings help save the library money, because they cannot be lost, damaged or never returned, she said.
“They’re always as good as they were the first time,” Poor said.
Hatton said Bartholomew County’s library also has been fortunate to be in a community that supports its mission, so it has the resources to provide what the community wants.
Citing results from a recent long-range planning survey conducted by the library, Poor said 50 percent visited the library weekly over the past year, 96 percent said they had checked out a book in the past year, and 60.2 percent said they had checked out a DVD in the past year.
Hatton likened the library to a lifelong learning institution.
“After (college), we still need to keep learning and talking and discussing, and just never stop growing in our educational experiences,” he said. “The library (provides) resources to do that.”