Throwing the book, Libraries suffering circulation drops; increased Internet use may be culprit
Rising Internet use at home may be the reason that libraries in Hudson County and across the state have been experiencing declining and stagnant circulation numbers. State figures reveal that few libraries in Hudson County are experiencing an increase in circulation as concern grows about the effects of the Internet. From 1997 to 1998, countywide circulation dropped 12 percent from 977,269 to 859,000, according to Bob Fortenbaugh, a public library consultant at the New Jersey State Library. "To see that drop probably puts them towards the bottom of the ladder," Fortenbaugh said. "It certainly doesn't paint a good picture. Technology has impacted libraries, and many library directors and boards are concerned with the decline, which some attribute to the rise of the Internet and home computer usage." Indeed, state figures at the beginning of the year revealed that circulation has decreased at most public libraries in the county. Weehawken's decrease was a result of the library's lengthy closure for renovations, said the library's director, Phil Greco. Although state figures revealed a circulation decrease at the Hoboken library from '97 to '98, that library, as well as the Secaucus Public Library, experienced a reversal in the trend the following year. Bruce Massis, the Hoboken library's director until recently, said the library experienced a 21 percent circulation increase from 21,701 in 1998 to 27,521 since mid-1999. He credited the increase to system upgrades. The library joined the Bergen County Cooperative Library System (BCCLS, pronounced "buckles") last year. BCCLS is a consortium of 72 libraries that allows members to borrow up to 50 books at one time from a combined collection of 5 million items. Kathy Steffens, director of the Secaucus Public Library, said the library has experienced a 6 percent increase in circulation from '98 to '99, but this increase is based on BCCLS statistics rather than state figures. BCCLS only measures books circulated through its computer system. Books borrowed through traditional means are not taken into account. The state measures all circulation numbers including those from BCCLS. Weehawken, North Bergen and Bayonne are also members of BCCLS, which has been accused by some library directors outside the county of providing inaccurate statistics. Whose stats are right?
But Robert White, executive director of BCCLS, said he is suspicious of state findings on circulation. He said they are based on yearly questionnaires that libraries fill out. "Most of those state statistics were just fiction," he said, "because many libraries were not automated." He added that library must find ways to project circulation accurately and become better equipped for the impact of the Internet on circulation. "Now people come in to surf on the Net and not read a book," he said, "so [it shows up as] no circulation." "The Internet is going to have some effect," said Steffens. "But not everyone has access to it." Home access to the Internet has increased. According to a July '99 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, at the end of 1998, more than 40 percent of American households owned computers, and one-quarter had Internet access. "Libraries saw a decrease in circulation when this last generation became accessible to the Internet," said Fran Ware, who is head of operations at the Jersey City Public Library. "We can't do things the old way. The library has to reinvent itself." "Right now we're holding our own," said Patricia Tumulty, executive director of the NJ Library Association. "So far, circulation is holding steady. It hasn't decreased dramatically. But as the number of people using the Internet increases, we'll see." Can't beat 'em; join 'em
Rather than complain about increased technology, many libraries are providing their own Internet services. Last year, the Hoboken library finally scrapped its old card catalog system in favor of the electronic BCCLS system. They had made Internet access available a few years ago. Massis attributed the circulation growth since mid-'99 to increased Internet use at the library. Many people now visit libraries for Internet access, said Massis, who cited a survey released last year by the American Library Association (ALA). According to that survey, 73.3 percent of public libraries in the U.S. provide Internet access. Massis believes libraries with Internet access will become a source for those that do not have home computers. But Massis said he still feared the effects of technology on the amount of people taking out books. "It's a little scary," he said. "Who knows what's going to happen. I'm scratching my head over this as well as every other director. We're trying to get them to read." Tumulty said libraries must adapt to changing times. "We see our role changing into one of helping people," he said. "I think the Internet is becoming another part of the library service. They come to learn how to use the Internet." Lynne Bradley, director of the American Library Association, said there is still an advantage to using the library for research rather than the Internet. "There are issues about content on the Internet not always being reliable because of content tampering," Bradley said. "Parts of the Internet bar you from exchanging or copying information. So even those that have access to a computer from home are not going to have access to the information they need." Massis believes that no matter the outcome of increased Internet use, "Libraries are not going to suffer, and books are not going to disappear. People like the smell of a book and the crack of the pages." Riding the information superhighway; WNY Free Public Library offers Internet classes for senior citizens
Believe it or not, many adults were already out of the working world before computers began to take it over. These same people sit with their children and grandchildren amazed at how easily they are able to research the topic of their latest science project or send an e-mail to one of their friends. That is why West New York Mayor Albio Sires was willing to help senior citizens with Internet classes. "Many senior citizens are afraid of these machines," said Sires. "[These classes] will take away that fear. The West New York Public Library is now offering a Basic Internet Workshop for senior citizens." The library's Board of Trustees also played an important role in the development of the classes. The board purchased two additional computers for use in the class. Estela Longo, the library's reference librarian who conducts the classes with Ivonne Arroyo, said, "This class encourages senior citizens to use the Internet as an additional tool for information, learning and entertainment." The class, which began on July 17 and will run until August 8, will teach the basics needed to use the Internet. The class will focus on how to perform an Internet search, web pages, and how to send and receive e-mail. "We are not going to do anything too technical," said Longo. "We are just going to get them started." Many of the seniors taking the class do not have basic computer knowledge. "I do not have a computer at home," said Edward Malzone, one of the participants in the workshop. "It's all Greek to me." The class only has access to six network computers. However, there are two sessions held, one on Monday mornings from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. and one on Tuesdays at the same time, allowing 12 seniors to enroll. "Those who participated were shy at first," said Longo. "But they became very enthusiastic. Before you knew it, we were adding on another half hour to the class." However, since many of the senior citizens taking the class do not have access to a computer at their homes, using the Internet outside of the class may be difficult. However, Weiliang Lai, the director of the library, said that the library now has a computer set aside especially for senior citizens to use. "When you come to library," said Lai, explaining the need for this special computer, "there are never any computers open." The seniors are mostly using the computers to e-mail their relatives in other countries. "E-mail is taking the place of the telephone for them," said Longo. Lai also explained that these classes are only the first phase. He said that there would soon be intermediate and advanced level Internet classes for senior citizens. Sires added, "[These classes] are an example of making the library an integral part of the community."