Internet changing library use

Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2001

Juneau residents are visiting public libraries more often but aren't using them the same way they did a decade ago, according to librarians.

Ten years ago, the Juneau Public Library's three branches counted 302,085 visits. Circulation, or the number of items checked out of the library, was 300,163. Last fiscal year, the number of library visits increased to 434,865 while circulation dropped to 237,209, according to a space needs study.

"It's a phenomenon that libraries are experiencing all across the country with the advent of the Internet. People who are looking for factual answers can often find that on the Internet or databases we supply rather than combing through individual books or taking them out," said electronic services librarian Barbara Berg.

While overall circulation numbers are down, fiction and children's books circulation has not decreased, she said. And it's not simply the Internet that's changing use. Online databases that provide health care and financial information account for changing demand, Berg said.

"We also still notice a lot of in-house use of printed reference materials and books. People look up something and might not check it out. We're looking for ways to account for in-house use," she said.

George Smith, deputy director of the Alaska State Library, said the demand for libraries has not decreased as the Internet has become more popular.

"I think that what's happened is that by and large the Internet has supplemented what libraries can do. It hasn't replaced what libraries can do," he said. "It's a new dimension of information."

New library construction and expansion projects continues nationwide, Smith said. In Alaska, Fairbanks just expanded its library. Planning for new libraries is underway in Haines, Seward and Kodiak, he said.

People expect more from public libraries than they did 20 years ago, he added. In addition to books and other materials, people want libraries to provide programs for children, Internet assistance and public meeting space, he said.

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