Library Loses Circulation in Time of Technological Change
Fewer and fewer items have been checked out at the Fair Lawn library over the past three years.
Fair Lawn residents checked out more than 350,000 items from the library last year -- fifth most among Bergen County BCCLS members -- but like many libraries in the area, the annual circulation has been spiraling downward in recent years.
Since 2009, Fair Lawn library circulation has dropped by more than 60,000, a decrease of about 15 percent.
Among Fair Lawn's closest Bergen County neighbors, only Elmwood Park has seen an increase in circulation (+4.4%) over the past three years. Ridgewood, Glen Rock and Paramus -- all of which have active library-going populations -- have seen decreases, although not as steep as Fair Lawn's.
Library director Tim Murphy said the decline is a sign of the times.
"It’s a societal thing," he said. "Things that people used to get from books they’re getting from the internet...with the availability of smart phones and iPads people have so many other places to get information that did not exist 10,15 years ago."
Murphy said the library still has a core of loyal and persistent physical book readers, but that a growing number of people are accessing information differently.
Almost 40 percent of the library's usage now comes from its circulation of DVDs and CDs -- up from just 5 percent a few years ago -- and the number of patrons who connect to the library's internet connection has also jumped.
"I notice people upstairs every afternoon," said Murphy, referring to the library's computer cluster. "Business is changing."
The library's most recent technological foray has been into the realm of e-books, as more patrons shift their reading medium of choice from physical books to portable tablets like the Kindle, Nook or iPad.
E-books still make up a tiny portion of the library's overall circulation but that number is growing rapidly, along with the library's digital collection.
There are currently 1511 e-books available for download on the BCCLS website, almost 600 more than just three months ago. Fair Lawn ranks fourth across the entire 74-town BCCLS system in the number of e-book downloads by patrons, according to BCCLS data.
Rather than patrons having to browse the library's aisles looking for their book of choice, librarians are now largely left to shoulder that burden when they fill electronic orders.
The number of people who request books online has increased dramatically, up an astounding 82 percent since 2006.
"It’s a fundamental change," Murphy said of online borrowing. "Whatever the hours of service are, the library is still available 24/7. It didn’t used to be that way. It's a big change in how we operate and how we staff."
Fair Lawn residents check out, on average, about 11 items per year, which compared to our neighboring BCCLS brethren, is pretty middle of the road.
Ridgewood, Glen Rock and Paramus libraries had about twice the circulation per resident as did Fair Lawn in 2011. Alternatively, Fair Lawn's library circulation per resident trumps the rate of smaller neighbors like Saddle Brook, Elmwood Park and Rochelle Park by between two and five times.
If a Fair Lawn resident requests a book that is owned by the Ridgewood Library, it counts toward Ridgewood's circulation number, even if the book is ultimately shipped to and picked up from Fair Lawn's library, Murphy explained.
That means municipal libraries with a more relevant and comprehensive selection of materials will generate higher circulation numbers, even if the residents in that given town aren't the ones doing all of the reading.
"There are certain towns in Bergen County that are good library towns -- I would count Fair Lawn, Teaneck, Ridgewood," Murphy said. "But all things being equal, the amount of resources is going to affect your usage. The more and better books you have, the more that tend to be used."
Murphy said that strained library budgets over past five to 10 years have forced Fair Lawn's library to reduce the amount it spends on acquiring new materials (books, CDs, DVDs, etc.).
"We’re borrowing more from other towns than we did in the past," he said. "It’s one benefit of BCCLS, but it affects the statistics."
As recently as 2007, the number of materials Fair Lawn borrowed from other libraries was about equal to the amount it lent to those same libraries. By 2011, however, Fair Lawn was borrowing 18,000 more items per year from other libraries than it was lending.
Going forward, Murphy said that one of the library's goals is to boost the proportion of its shrinking budget that it spends on acquiring new materials and reduce its borrowing figures.
A look at the numbers:
Annual Library Total Circulation Statistics (data provided by Bergen County Cooperative Library System) :
|Pop.||2011||2010||2009||Circulation/Resident (2011)||% Change since 2009|
* (X) = Circulation rank among the 62 Bergen County BCCLS members
** Population figures are based on 2010 Census
2012 Combined Circulation Statistics for eBCCLS & DigitalLibraryNJ (eBooks only)
|Population||2012 (through April)||Checkouts/Resident|
|Fair Lawn||32,457||638 (4)||.020|
|Glen Rock||11,601||313 (16)||.027|
|Elmwood Park||19,403||89 (56)||.0046|
|Saddle Brook||13,659||85 (59)||.0062|
|Rochelle Park||5,530||27 (74)||.0049|
* (X) = Circulation rank among all 74 BCCLS members
** Population figures are based on 2010 Census