During the past few years, we have tried to make some accommodation for our space needs by examining how our collection is being used. We have to make some assumptions, based on trends and recommendations from our colleagues, but we have found that Story City is sometimes ahead, and sometimes behind, and yes even ignoring the trends. It makes the library world pretty interesting at times.
One of the trends we expected to impact us was the use of the digital formats of books, both through e-books and through audio books. I personally never felt the e-books would totally take over a physical book, but some of our users have converted to e-books predominantly, while others have tried them, use them occasionally, but find they prefer a physical book whenever possible.
Our community has embraced the digital formats, but also has maintained the regular, physical use of our materials. We had a slight dip in circulation numbers, but our e-book and audio book circulations continue to climb, and the overall use of our physical library is pretty consistent. We have also learned that we cannot eliminate the cd books from our collection. We thought we might lose those users to downloadable audio, but learned we were wrong. So when we ran out of space, we had to take time to withdraw some of the materials and shift the collection where it could continue to grow, before purchasing new audio books for our public. During that process, new material was non-existent, however we are catching up now, adding nearly 50 new audio books since December.
We are thrilled! It tells us our library, the physical structure, is needed and important to this community. It has a viable collection that moves on and off the shelves each month, and our staff is asked for assistance daily to locate materials for families, young and old alike. We are proud of the statistics which show that research is being done from our shelves, and when we need more information, our community will ask us for it. Our library is alive and well.
I am wrapping up my first year as a commissioner for the Iowa Library Commission. As I took on this role with some trepidation, I also felt strongly that small libraries need a voice somewhere in the structure of library services in Iowa. Although I have been a member of the Iowa Library Association for over 15 years, I saw that the impact to a small library which have staff trained to cover every aspect of library service is not considered when there are massive changes being made. A larger library often is able to hire an employee whose primary job is to check in and out books, plan programs, fulfill Inter-library loans, catalog books or do administrative tasks. Our library and all libraries smaller….over 500 in Iowa, usually have staff who share in all these duties, so drastic changes don’t allow us the time to focus, retrain and work through problems quickly…we have to find a way to work it in.
Serving on this commission has been somewhat of an eye opener. I didn’t know the State Library was part of the Department of Education, although that probably should have been obvious. There are seven seats on this commission, one held by a member of the Department of Education, one a member of the Supreme Court, one school librarian, one library trustee, two public librarians, one academic librarian and two at large members. Samantha Helmick of the Burlington Public Library, and I fill the roles of the public librarians, and we both take our jobs very seriously. As these are Governor appointments, we have taken full advantage of the training provided both by the Governor’s office for all commissions, in addition to training by the State Library staff.
In the few years ahead serving on this commission, I’m hoping the other commissioners and the State staff will get a better picture of what small libraries can do for their communities, and begin to understand the significant need to keep small towns alive in Iowa. And the answer to the viability and success in small town Iowa seems to have a correlation to a progressive and supportive community library.