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Books still reign for Westmoreland County library patrons

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Though rapidly evolving technology alters the way in which information is disseminated and consumed, directors at local libraries saw positive trends in 2013.

“The reading public is still very strong,” said Janet Hudson, director of Ligonier Valley Library.

Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe and its Caldwell Memorial Library branch in Derry Township experienced increases in overall circulation in 2013.

Another branch, Unity Library, recently closed amid financial concerns, Adams director Tracy Trotter said.

“Actually, in our case we haven't seen very much of a dip in our regular circulation,” Trotter said. “... We did see a small dip (from the Unity branch closing), but it was actually way less than I expected it to be. And in fact, two of our branches had an increase, probably because some of the people came in from the branch that we lost and ended up checking stuff out at other branches.”

Adams Memorial Library also operates a bookmobile that travels throughout the eastern part of the county.

Books remain the most heavily circulated items throughout all Westmoreland County libraries, but checkouts and renewals of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs are increasing quickly. Combined checkouts and renewals of DVDs and Blu-rays at Adams jumped by 13 percent in 2013, compared with an increase in book circulation of about 8.5 percent.

Still, of the 174,133 total transactions at Adams in 2013, more than 72 percent were for hard copies of books. Books accounted for more than 83 percent of transactions at Caldwell and the bookmobile in 2013.

Trotter said digital content such as e-books and audio books in MP3 format have been increasingly popular, and Adams hosts “Tech Tuesdays” to give patrons instruction in new technologies.

“It's so fast and easy that people just go nuts after they've seen it done once,” she said of the OverDrive Inc. software that allows libraries to loan out digital content. “They can't wait to just go home and play around with it.

“What we've found now is for a lot of the people it no longer matters what format we give it to them, as long as we give it to them as fast as we can,” Trotter added. “They'll put their name on both the electronic copy and the digital copy of something that might be checked out, and then whichever version comes in, that's the one they'll read.”

At Ligonier Valley, Hudson said, books accounted for 59 percent of circulation in 2013. DVDs accounted for 24 percent of circulation, and e-books came in at 3 percent. Audio books and public computers accounted for 7 percent each.

A major change in 2013 was a shift in the way visitors use the library, Hudson said.

Visitors are coming into the library and staying to utilize the free Internet access, computers and other in-house resources, according to Hudson.

“We have people that spend their entire day in here with their devices,” she said.

Clientele is changing as well.

“Ten years ago, the people spending a lot of time here were basically students working on homework assignments,” Hudson said. “Now we get business people spending the day here on the Wi-Fi, using the computers and connecting with other people, too.”

“We literally see people who bring their babies within a week of the baby being born, and then we have people who are in their 100s and they're still coming in,” Trotter said. “You can't predict that it's just going to be some little old ladies that come in here, because that's not what we see. We see everybody.”

Ligonier Valley visitors can expect a revamp of how space is used to accommodate those visitors spending more time in the library, Hudson said.

With a decrease in popularity, the video collection at Ligonier Valley will be eliminated, freeing more space for other uses, like additional seating.

The videos will be put on sale at 25 cents apiece in the near future, Hudson said.

“We'll grow our DVD and Blu-ray Disc collection,” she said.

According to Nancy Gresko, executive director of the Westmoreland Library Network, a trend has developed with more people accessing library resources remotely. Using the library network's website, visitors can manage their account, renew books and download e-books.

Even with the ability to perform so many library functions from elsewhere, Trotter said she has not noticed a decline in foot traffic.

“We're amazed how many people, even with all the stuff we have that's electronic, they come down here to take advantage of it,” Trotter said. “It hasn't stopped them coming through the doors.”

Hudson said the Internet and advancements in technology only help libraries.

“It gives us more ideas and more things we can do,” she said.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, “reports of the death of libraries have been greatly exaggerated,” she said.

Greg Reinbold and Nicole Chynoweth are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reinbold can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913. Chynoweth can be reached at 724-850-2862.