Library Combating Circulation Slide

Library usage overall is up at the Kendallville Public Library. So does that mean more people checking out more books? Not necessarily.

Books take on a lot more forms now: print, CD audio, Playaways, eBooks. It's easier than ever to take a book on the go, but circulation is still declining at many libraries.

"I think it's a sign of the times," said Kendallville Public Library Director Katie Mullins.

At the Kendallville Public Library, total circulations from January through May of 2017 are at 97,768, down just 645 from the same period in 2016. Mullins isn't disappointed by that number, and in fact she considers it pretty good news.

"I'm happy to see such a minimal difference," she said. "It's something that other library directors are aware of, it's a trend."

"It's about how you can react to it."

The Kendallville Public Library has taken more steps now than in the past to curb the decline in circulation. It looks like those steps may be working, as the numbers are declining much slower than they have in the past. Mullins said from 2015 to 2016, circulation declined by 7,000. Compared to that, a drop of 645 over nearly half a year is a relief.

The major mantra for Kendallville when it comes to circulations? Know and respond to your community.

"First and foremost we listen to our patrons and purchase what they want," said Children's Services Manager Beth Munk.

"We need to build relationships with patrons," said Adult Services Manager Leah Dresser. "When we find a book or series patrons like, it's easy to recommend a similar series."

"Listening to patrons is so important – no matter how many reviews or journals I read, I can always get different perspectives from patrons."

Those journals are pretty important, too. Keeping up with what's coming out allows the library to stay ahead of the game. KPL often orders materials – especially for adults – far in advance. The books can then be added to the collection even before they are physically available in the library. These "on order" books can be easily searched in the catalog, and patrons can place a hold on any they would like so they have a better chance of being first on the list when the item arrives.

OverDrive, the library's downloadable eBook and audio book service, offers books on the go from anywhere, often with no waiting. While many of the new, popular books do have a wait list, patrons can search for books that are "Available Now" and grab something to read right away.

Whether someone is looking for an eBook or prefers the feel and weight of a real book in his or her hands, the library staff knows the patrons so well that they're able to order what they know the community wants and needs.

"It's crucial to conduct a friendly and efficient readers' advisory interview with every patron," said Teen Services Manager Marie Kaufmann. "We make sure to ask about what books they have enjoyed in the past and subjects they need materials on. Once we have the information we need, it's important that we are familiar with our collections to make the perfect recommendation or purchase materials if we find certain areas are lacking."

Munk, Kaufmann and Dresser definitely know their collections. All have conducted a "deep weed" over the last year or so, pulling about 40,000 books from the library's total collection. Some might think that there fewer books to circulate, so circulation is likely to sharply decline. Instead, the opposite is true.

Touching and considering every book in the collection is the best way to know what's on the library shelves. The staff knows where the collection is thriving and where it is lacking. The books that were deleted from the collection were outdated, or rarely checked out. The library is reinvesting in its collections to include more relevant materials and books that the community actually wants to read.

"We are able to get new books that are of more interest to our patrons, and we can even bring new life to some of the classics," said Mullins.

When patrons tell the staff what they want, the staff listens. The library can accept requests online for new materials. Likewise, if a patron requests a book that KPL doesn't have, that information is noted and turned over to the proper department. More often than not, requested books are purchased and added to the collection.

Trey Warren, a fifth grader at St. John Lutheran School, said the library staff is a big part of the reason why he's a regular. He comes in often and leaves with two or three large chapter books each time.

"I go to the attendant (staff member), and can ask them to find me a book," said Warren. "They find it on the shelf or they can put a hold on it from another Evergreen library."

"I want to give a really big hand to the attendants - they really help you get into books."

While Warren likes to ask the staff to point him to a specific book, some like to browse the shelf themselves. The new topic-driven collection allows them to do that more efficiently.

Andrew Deming hadn't been to the library in a while, but recently brought his kids, Eli and Emma in. They headed back to the Children's Area, and when Eli came back to the circulation desk, he had a stack of books and a big grin on his face.

Eli knows he needs to work on his reading, and as the Principal of Kendallville Middle School, his dad Andrew understands the importance of continuing to read throughout the summer.

"We know Little Critter books and Berenstain Bears - he loves them, so we were very excited to come back and see those bins over there (in the Children's Department) and get them," said Andrew. "I like how it's organized over there."

Thanks to the move to a topic-driven collection, children can now easily find their favorite books, often lined up in bins with a brightly colored label on the front. It's got the name of the character or subject and, of course, a picture for those kids who aren't quite reading on their own yet.

The teen and adult departments have reorganized as well. The entire library got rid of the Dewey Decimal System in favor of organizing books by subjects instead.

The Deming's didn't only come in to the library for books. They picked up a calendar of events and are planning to attend activities happening this summer.

Natasha Hayden started bringing her children to the library when they were very young.

"I started taking my kids to the library when they were babies," she said. "We always did the babies' and kids programs, where they got free books. So cool!"

They attended Preschool Storytime, which has since been replaced by the M.A.P.S. Workshop. There, children are read stories, but they also participate in hands-on activities focused on movement, art, play and STEM.

"We've always put books in our kids' hands, and they have naturally grown up reading and wanting to read," said Hayden.

While they're in the library, they're browsing the shelves and taking advantage of the 100 item check out limit.

"I take a huge bag of books home every time we visit the library, which is almost every week," she said. "We completed the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program and probably read way more than that along the way."

The 1000 Books Before Kindergarten Initiative is one of the library's best services to instill a love of reading in kids and get them ready for school. It's recently been revamped, too, to include new activities and stories.

Hayden and her husband both come from families full of readers, so it's getting passed on to the next generation.

"I guess my husband read some Lord of the Rings when he was in first or second grade, and now my son Fyo, who is seven, has read the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring," said Hayden.

Hayden does manage to carve out some reading time for herself, too.

"I read YA fiction," she said. "Since I'm pretty busy with the kids, it takes a lot more effort to read a longer, heavier book. The stories in YA fiction are usually fairly short, exciting, and encompass a variety of genres. I like fantasy and fairy tales, dystopian stories, science fiction, and stuff where girls wield weapons, and YA has all that. The library is always getting new YA books, too, so there's always something I want to read."

People who are interested in a specific subject, genre or author now have a new tool to help them find books at the Kendallville Public Library. The library has recently added Select Reads, a service that offers information on books in the library's collection, customized newsletters and direct links to the library's catalog. It's patron-driven, meaning that everyone can use the service to pick and choose the information that's important to them.

The library has also added a service that allows books to be featured in the weekly event emails the library sends out to its subscribers. The emails sent to adults, for instance, promote the books that are already in the library catalog but won't be released until the following week. Direct links to the library catalog are included, so patrons can place a hold instantly when they see a title they're interested in.

The library is willing to do what it takes to get books into the hands of those who want them. KPL offers an outreach service, which delivers books to nursing home and home bound residents. Teachers and day care providers can request bulk loans of books on a specific subject. They use them to enhance the lessons they're providing to students.

Basically, everything the library does is in an effort to increase, or at least maintain, the circulation of books.

Still, diversification is the key to remaining relevant in the community. Even with the addition of "things," like equipment, art prints and more, the library is still following its mission of "Providing Access to Information for Life."

"We're still educating people," said Mullins, "it's just in a different way."

Even though circulation is taking a downturn, library usage continues to grow. An additional 13,000 people visited the Kendallville Public Library in 2016 than visited in 2015. They're just using the library in new and different ways, and not checking out as many books.

"The beautiful thing about libraries is that they can be all things to all people. Our community needs an experience that is beneficial to them, and we plan to provide that."