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Visits Decline 26% in 2 Years at Flagler County Public Library; E-Books Beginning Oct. 1

| February 20, 2012

Quaint, but not yet history. (© FlaglerLive)

The electronic book, or e-book, is coming to the Flagler County Public Library, starting Oct. 1. Or rather, it’s coming to your Kindle, your Nook, your iPad, your computer or whatever other electronic platform you prefer, by way of the library.

It is the latest major shift in the nature and purpose of public libraries as they continue to adapt to media that diminish the need for shelf space while warding off the effects of diminishing demand for more traditional materials–and diminishing visits by patrons: There’s been a decline of 12 percent in circulated materials through the library in the last two years, and a decline of 26 percent in the number of people visiting the library. On the other hand, the library saw a 14 percent increase in demand for informational databases accessed through the library’s web site.

The Library Board of Trustees had opposed the move to e-books, considering it an unwise use of taxpayer dollars. It costs the library about $28 per electronic title, almost twice what it’s been paying for hard covers. But Volusia and St. Johns’ library systems have e-books, and even offer them—for an annual membership fee—to Flagler County residents, who’ve been taking up the offer while urging their local library to do likewise. Flagler Library Director Holly Albanese has been busy fielding phone calls and emails from patrons wondering when their library would provide the service.

The board of trustees discovered that resistance is futile. That resistance may have accelerated the decline in patrons’ usage of the library.

So by fall you’ll be able to borrow books, audio books and even videos, in electronic format, for one or two weeks at a time (the term hasn’t been worked out yet). You’ll be able to carry those titles wherever you go. And when the borrowing term is over, the titles will simply disappear from your device: no hassles back to the library to return books, no late fees, no wandering around the house looking for misplaced titles. But some standard library strictures will remain: if, for example, the library buys one e-book version of, say, the latest Stephen King title, that title can only be lent to one patron, even electronically (though patrons will be able to borrow several electronic titles at the same time, depending on availability. Currently, patrons may borrow up to 20 physical items at a time. The allowance for electronic items is not likely to be that high.)

The library will be buying titles through Overdrive, a leading provider of digital materials that also markets through Amazon, and doing so through a consortium of libraries in northern Florida, Albanese said, to leverage the library’s purchasing power: being part of that consortium means being able to buy more books at lesser cost.

Holly Albanese (© FlaglerLive)

E-books, Albanese said, “probably will take over maybe one third of the circulation” of overall materials. Looking at other libraries trends and budgets, the director said, “there’s going to be a shift eventually, and we will purchase more in e-books than print.”

For now, however, two major publishers—Random House and Penguin—are refusing to be part of the e-book trend. They have e-books, but they’re not allowing libraries to lend them. That keeps numerous best-sellers out of libraries’ electronic circulations. These include, for example, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and two other Larsson titles currently among the top 15 best-selling electronic titles, and Robert Massie’s Catherine the Great. (Knopf Doubleday, which has several titles on the bestseller list, is a Random House imprint.) Albanese said negotiations are continuing between the American Library Association and the publishing houses to bring down the walls.

The physical needs of the library won’t be gone any time soon, however, Albanese said. “I always said that the library is going to change but the library systems, we’ve changed over the course of many thousands of years and we’ve always adapted to the needs of the public. I don’t see print going away for probably another 50 years.”

So there’s even talk of expanding the library by a third, to 9,000 square feet, because as its trustees see it, the main branch at Belle Terre and Palm Coast Parkway will be it for the next 10 years. Palm Coast will likely expand in the area of Town Center, but the trustees don’t see the need for a branch there for another decade. “The expansion of an already cramped facility is worthy of consideration,” the trustees’ annual report states. The library is budgeting architectural design plans for 2012, particularly for better meeting space.

The library is becoming more of a cultural center. “We have the art, we have the programs, so we are going to be for information, we’re also an e-government site,” Albanese said, citing the shift in federal and state governments’ own accessibility: as those government agencies shutter more doors to local offices, such as Social Security or unemployment offices, public libraries are taking up the slack through their internet connections. And in some cases, making money at it: the Flagler public library’s passport service generates fees exceeding the $40,000-a-year mark. By year’s end, that service will have generated over $200,000 for the library.

And then there’s the coffee shop: the library decided to open one on site, though the plan ran into some obstacles when the two merchants responding to the library’s request for proposal did not work out. Plans are still on to open the café this year. “We’re kind of back to square one so we’re going to meet and discuss what our options are,” Albanese said.

The Flagler County Commission was to hear an annual report on the library’s operations at the commission’s meeting this evening.

Crime, real or perceived, has been an issue at the library. The library grounds were becoming “a place where drugs sometimes changed hands and where graffiti and vandalism occurred,” the library report states. “In fact, the gazebo out back was destroyed by vandalism.” Albanese secured a grant that paid for a security camera system, which she could monitor from her office, and she launched the Library Crime Watch program in October, using volunteers. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office also stepped up its patrols. “Problems have declined dramatically and it did not cost the taxpayer anything,” the report states. The library also installed a new theft-detection system.

As always, the Friends of the Library have been doing a big share of the work “through generous financial support, numerous programs for patrons of all ages, popular book sales and capital improvements,” the report states. “The activities and programs sponsored by the Friends are covered prominently by our local media, thus communicating to residents the significant offerings of our library. The Friends just reported to the Trustees that for the ten year period, 2001 through 2010, more than $629,000 was contributed to the library. The library volunteers (many of whom are Friends) worked 16,441 hours, thus saving the County more than $300,000 in personnel expenses in the past year.”

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25 Responses for “Visits Decline 26% in 2 Years at Flagler County Public Library; E-Books Beginning Oct. 1”

  1. Layla says:

    There is no drug problem at the Library. It’s easy to get them there.

  2. Yellowstone says:

    What price do you place on the current lost or stolen books? What price do you estimate the costs for building maintenance, labor, and the purchase of new books?

    Seems as if going to e-books would be a means to capture some of those expenditures – and regain a better Return on (our taxes) Investment (ROI).

    If our Public Library doesn’t make these changes – perhaps they’ll go the way of Borders Books and Blockbuster and vanish!

    You can find a good price on a great book online anywhere from ‘Free’ to tens of dollars. In some cases cheaper that what it will cost to wait, drive, and retrieve a public book.

    Flagler taxpayers: Look at your neighboring counties. Don’t you lose out on this opportunity to move into the 21st century.

  3. Linda says:

    Not everybody in this town has a computer, Kindle or Nook. There will always be a need for a public library.

    I suspect the drop in usage might have a lot to do with the druggies who have been hanging out there in large numbers over many months. It used to be a nice place for seniors and mothers with kids to go. Not anymore.

    Our library is not a safe place to visit any longer. People loiter out front with their pants hanging down around their ankles, stoned. It has become a hangout, not a library.

  4. Outsider says:

    Just bring the drug dealers INSIDE the library…..that’ll get the traffic up.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    Like I said many years ago….now we get stuck with the big white elephant in our taxpayers pockets.
    The high cost of gas probably is also affecting the library use and people having to enslave themselves working longer hours to put the bread on the table, with no time left to spare going to the library. Besides the passports renewals to be done in the library, what other revenue they generate for such installations and expenses? The times of opulence are over for hard working Americans, the ones that really sustain our tax revenues and should be reflected on the compensations of the higher tier, of the ones our taxes sustain.
    Have the volunteers and the library board trustees Friends and members to fund the library and reduce our tax burden on it.. Because now they still want to expand it by 9,000 sq ft,? Have they gone mad on our pockets? Because right now no matter how many times you go to the library is empty. This nonsense about building castles to the local elite, has to be stopped in this disastrous economy. To the contrary to adjust to the current pathetic budgets there should be no wasteful expansion, reduce the librarian pay (over $69.700) that is totally out of line with what the taxpayers of this county have to contribute of their own earnings to sustain these taxes. How many of us residents make that pay? And how many assistants we pay for her also? If wealthy seniors and other fans enjoy having this huge library, have them contribute to its sustainability thru fundraiser and other volunteer work. Why most of us not utilizing the library have to fund it.
    Have they forgotten that we need sidewalks in some of our busy parkways so our children and elderly don’t get killed by traffic? As per Mica Federal Transportation Committee head, This County Commission and City of Palm Coast officials told us that there is no money for that right?! But plenty for airport tower, new runway and library? I guess is the way our capitalism have degenerated, looking closer to communism than ever before and just benefiting the ones in control only. Jeez 9,000 more sq. ft. for this already OSTENTOUS EMPTY library! When enough is enough? I can see all arrows aimed at me now for this realistic post! Apologize for any misspell.

    • Linda says:

      BRAVO for your honesty!

      THEY are our elected officials and our city manager. Leave them in office and expect more of the same.

      You should run for office, Palmcoaster.

    • Ron says:

      No, the library is not a white elephant; It is a cornucopia of wealth for a community. Based on economic impact studies, a library for every dollar received of taxpayer money, generates $8 in value. Thus, for a taxpayer outlay of about $1,000,000 here in Flagler County, the community received $8,000,000 in value. That is an outstanding return on investment.

      The mathematics of this return on investment are simple and compelling. Last year, library patrons used 451,741 collection items. At a nominal value of $15 per item that is $6,776,115 in value. This is money saved that a family can spend on food, clothing and transportation while at the same time fulfilling their educational and entertaiment needs via the library.

      In addition to items used by library patrons, last year there were 571 youth programs attended by 19,474 children and teens, and 30 programs for adults attended by 3,075 persons. Again, all at no charge to the communtiy as the Friends of the Library helped to finance many of these activities.

      Also the library provided 76,458 public Internet workstation sessions to citizens and visitors.

      Finally the library supported 197,255 uses of various informational databases accessed through the Library Web page.

      I think one can now understand that the Flagler County Public Library is a wealth machine in our community.


  6. elaygee says:

    Libraries are museums of books with hundreds of shelves of unused books sitting there collecting dust and needing to be heated and cooled even if nobody else is in the building. You could get every citizen an account with prepaid books for the price of the library operations budget, never mind construction costs and maintenance.

    We don’t make buggy whips for all any more. We don’t need museums of books in every town either.

  7. Doug Chozianin says:

    Libraries would be a great place to tutor kids who want to learn. Also, what better place for finding, choosing and working with mentors.

    Libraries need to be revamped.

  8. Gia says:

    I used to spend time at the library. Not anymore. It’s a place where pigs & slob hangout.

  9. some guy says:

    OK so we see a 25% decline in the past 2 yrs so we need to add 3000sq feet???

  10. palmcoaster says:

    @Someguy, you missed the mark!! The library exclusive board wants to expand 9,000 sq ft, not 3,000 and on our pockets! We need to stop this taxpayers funds wasteful madness. The luxuries afforded with other people’s monies. Cut the real fat and reduce these residents taxes.

  11. palmcoaster says:

    By the way, very important…I have an elderly friend of mine that used to love to go to the library and spend sometime reading there. Until a year ago that while he was relaxing and reading, another library user coughing and sneezing showed up without total disregard for the one’s present and gave him a bad cold that turned into flu and a pneumonia, that required hospitalization and almost killed him at his age.
    No more library for him ever since. Just one more of the dangers for elderly library users.

  12. Linda says:

    I worked the polls there during the previous two elections and was working with a volunteer who used to be an undercover cop up north.

    They are NOT trying to clean up this library.

    WHY NOT?

  13. Ron says:

    As library volunteer for 12 years, I would like to correct some of the distortions of fact and reality as to the Flagler County Public Library.

    One writer says: “Why most of us not utilizing the library have to fund it.” The approved FY2011-2012 Budget for the library is $994,726. Per the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 36,182 households in Flagler County. Thus, the library has an annual cost per household of $27. Think of it, check out one item like a hard copy book from the library and as a taxpayer you have realize your cost. There are 40,000+ Flagler County citizens who have a library card to avail themselves of this common good.

    Another comment was: ” Because right now no matter how many times you go to the library, it is empty.” Well, for the prior year, 360,561 persons visited the library. Based on 300 days of operation during the year, that is an average of 1,200 persons each day.

    Then, we have this comment: “Libraries are museums of books with hundreds of unused books sitting there collecting dust.” Again, for the prior year, the library circulated 451,741 collection items. That is average of 1,500 items for each day of operation. BTW, the task of reshelving these items each day is accomplished with the help of a small army of volunteers.

    Finally, there is this comment: “libraries would be a great place to tutor kids who want to learn.” Well, currently such organizations as The Flagler Palm Coast Amateur Radio Club and the Flagler County Astronomy Club hold special programs for ages 8+. Then, there are the many Childrens, Young Adults and Adults programs at the library each month. It is the growing attendence at these programs which now require a larger meeting room which is the main goal of the expansion plan.


  14. Tobias3js says:

    The library is more of a center for programs than a library. With more information available on the internet, why use the books? I am happy that the library will be getting into digital ebooks as it shows that we as a community are not stuck in the past. I can see libraries being large computer rooms and meeting places for the public. Libraries improve quality of life and make a place more appealing to move to…it shows where a communitys values lie if you look at the state of the library and it’s schools.

  15. agnese says:

    Modern technology,,, Recently I was waiting at the Atlanta airport between flights, just looking around I noticed that I was the only one sitting there with an old fashioned “book”. I hope I never loose my priveledge of using my local library and the wonderful, helpful people who work there. (Main Office, you’re the best),

  16. palmcoaster says:

    @ Ron, we appreciate your voluntarism, but 9,000 more sq ft on our pockets is not justifiable. With an economy where the average Flagler County young family income is $44,000 having to work two, more than 40 hours a week to achieve it and indeed not having the luxury of spare time to enjoy the library, an unemployment of 16.5% or more, I consider it an abusive project that has to be postpone!!. Are you also in the library board of trustees? The belt tightening should be across the board.
    Want a larger library…? achieve it thru fundraising!

    • Ron says:

      As I understand, the library would be expanded by 3600 to as much as 9000 sqaure feet. Again, the main purpose of the expansion is to provide for more meeting room space. The design of the existing building planned for this eventuality. Now as to funding, it is recognized that the county budget is constrained at this time by the nations current economic malaise. Accordingly, alternative funding will be sought by grants and contributions.

      A library is one element of the common good of a community like, police, fire protection etc. Based on the statistics I provided, the library is used extensively by the community. More importantly, based on economic impact studies, a library for every dollar received of taxpayer money, generates $8 in value. Thus, for a taxpayer outlay of about $1,000,000 here in Flagler County, the community received $8,000,000 in value. That is an outstanding return on investment.

      Now as to the Library Trustees, they serve at no pay. It is a labor of love to optimize learning and enlightenment in a community.


  17. sneeze says:

    Where’s the modern movies at? And why, after all the years i’ve lived her-10-why do i still have to go to Daytona/Ormond to get decent movies?! What are u guys spending the money on? I hardly have a reason to go there!! Plus it’s too far away for me. And what’s with all the new recruits?

  18. sharon says:

    i dont understand why they dont allow tutors to meet their students at this library.

  19. blondee says:

    I don’t really understand the need for expansion. The times I’ve been there you could have ballroom dancing taking place. They just need to make better use of the space they already have.

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