Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New patrons, New uses

Several weeks into the summer and staff members are reporting a noticeable increase in the numbers of people-family units, parent(s) and child, child and older sibling-who are now arriving in the morning and spending the day at the library. “Noticeable increase” is one of those nebulous terms that are anathema to me, but we are only now beginning to quantify the numbers and trying to better describe the composition of these groupings. What I can say categorically, is that these are not single adults “without visible means of support”. We are also seeing unprecedented growth in attendance at children's programming. Historically these are among our most popular programs, but attendance has grown rapidly. Two recent programs for which we anticipated 80 participants attracted 250 and 180 patrons. Other manifestations are a surge in new library card applicants, and many new faces in the audiences. There is also anecdotal evidence that the programs and the library represent a safe harbor for parents and children. Some of the day long stays are directly related to a lack of other options. For example, one young patron confided that they were having financial difficulties at home resulting in interruptions of utilities and phone service. Another young patron described moving from temporary residence to temporary residence and interludes with friends and relatives. Hardly definitive indicators of trends, but I will not be surprised if these are evidence of both increased use and unconventional uses of community assets like the library.

My larger point in submitting these observations is this: I believe we are witnessing evidence of larger and arguably grave conditions affecting the community. Some of our increased usage can plausibly be attributed to reduced personal circumstances, and reduced access to other venues such as recreational programs, the former YMCA, school based libraries and other ancillary activities. Also I do not want to ignore those seeking refuge from the prolonged bout of hot humid weather. I am glad we have the flexibility to adjust to changing needs, but also want to ensure that the larger, portentous community effects are acknowledged and addressed.

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