Against odds, library patronage soars

Popular pastime: Cronulla Library assistant Lisa Barnfield (above) shows how easy it is to download a book from the digital collection. Picture John Veage
Popular pastime: Cronulla Library assistant Lisa Barnfield (above) shows how easy it is to download a book from the digital collection. Picture John Veage

LIBRARIES are enjoying renewed popularity, with technology one of the driving forces behind a surge in visitors.

While many assumed libraries would suffer as a result of the technology revolution, free Wi-Fi and diversification has actually seen visitor numbers rise.

Statistics released recently by the State Library of NSW showed a rise in the number of people visiting the 360 NSW public libraries.

Physical visits to libraries had increased 30 percent since 2000, with 35 million visits recorded during the 2013-14 financial year. Loans increased 5 percent in that time to 45 million.

‘‘Public library visits and loans continue to rise at an impressive rate, but it is free Wi-Fi usage, virtual visits and surprisingly, non-traditional library services that are delivering the most staggering results,’’ said NSW State Librarian and chief executive Alex Byrne.

‘‘Public libraries are to be congratulated on introducing more adventurous and quirky programming to their diverse offering of existing library services.’’

He said more than 1.5 million people took part in a library program last financial year, up 40 percent since 2008.

Internet use and online services experienced extremely high growth.

Virtual visits to public library websites grew by 3 million to 12 million in one year while internet usage doubled in four years to almost 8 million sessions.

The State Library of NSW has been gathering public library usage statistics since 1973.

Information at fingertips is attractive to readers

Book club: A meeting of the Cronulla Library Open Book Group. Pictures: John Veage

Book club: A meeting of the Cronulla Library Open Book Group. Pictures: John Veage

GROWING popularity is one of the reasons why Sutherland Shire Council decided to extend the operating hours of two of its libraries this year. 

Sutherland and Cronulla libraries now open longer on weekends, with Cronulla extending its hours by four hours on Saturdays (now 9am to 4pm) and Sutherland staying open two more hours on Sundays (11am to 5pm). 

A Sutherland Shire Council spokeswoman said there had been 920,665 in-library visits to the shire’s eight branch libraries last financial year, but while this figure was up on 2012-13 (901,903), it had dropped from 2013-14 (953,649).

However, electronic visits had increased steadily each year from 305,583 in 2012-13 to 320,883 last year, while total visits last year were 1.24 million, compared with 1.26 million and 1.23 million previously.

‘‘Library visitation numbers show that despite a drop in physical visits, the number of electronic visits has increased and the total number of items borrowed has increased,’’ the spokeswoman said.

‘‘This means that while less people have physically come into the library, those who did come actually borrowed more items and more items were borrowed electronically. 

‘‘At the same time attendance at library events has also increased significantly by 28 percent.’’ 

The spokeswoman said ‘‘community expectations of public libraries’’ was changing and patrons were attracted to the ‘‘broad program of events offered and the new technology available’’.

She said 66,046 people attended the 2432 programs delivered at the shire’s libraries during the 2014-15 financial year.

The libraries’ digital collection had grown 53 percent and 42,676 items were added to the library collection.

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