Nonprofits find themselves competing more and more with businesses for customers, and libraries are no exception. However, Oregon’s 130 public libraries are thriving and many are expanding an already loyal customer base.
“We don’t worry about people coming into libraries,” says Jim Scheppke, State Librarian. “A downturn in the economy always turns library use up.”
The Oregon State Library found that checkouts of books and other materials from public libraries increased by 7% in 2009, reaching a new record of 55.8 million checkouts. The Multnomah County Library has the third-highest circulation rates in the country, behind Queens and New York City. Attendance in Crook County public libraries increased about 15% to 20% in the past two years according to Dave Patterson, library director. While some of that is due to the economy, Patterson credits a large portion of the increase to a new way of thinking about library customers.
“We’ve taken a lot of cues from retail,” Patterson says. “We try to have something for everyone.”
These include prominent new material displays to catch customers’ attention. Rural and metropolitan libraries also provide customers with extensive online resources, such as career centers and student resources, and free high-speed Internet, a major benefit for job seekers.
Vailey Oehlke, director of the Multnomah County Library, says libraries utilize technology to remain relevant and resourceful for their communities. Libraries around the state use everything from word-of-mouth to Twitter to inform users of new programs and materials.
Nearly 30 public libraries statewide are a part of the Oregon Digital Library Consortium, a group that pools their resources to purchase digital audio books, eBooks and digital videos. All of the materials are available for patrons of any participating library on the Library 2 Go website. While digital materials are a small percentage of any library’s resources, librarians across the state agree it’s a growing trend.
“We’re really excited that libraries are keeping up with all of the new technology,” says Scheppke.