Editorial: Eye on juveniles at WBPL
Op-Ed · January 25, 2013

Are the school-issued laptops causing a drop in children’s items checked out from the West Branch Public Library? It’s hard to tell.

More and more people continue to use the WBPL, but there are some interesting observations made by Director Nick Shimmin in his annual report.

“Circulation at the library took a step back this year, moving down from 45,603 in 2011 to 41,557 this year,” he noted. “The two primary areas that accounted for this decrease were in youth materials and in DVDs.”

That’s about 4,000 fewer items checked out. Shimmin includes a graph that shows library circulation figures, before 2012, have nearly doubled since people checked out about 25,000 items in 2002.

Is attendance down? Somewhat, yes. When the elementary and middle schools get out, pupils continue to zip across and around the Little Rose Bowl to swarm tables and computers at the WBPL.

“Many people note that the after-school period at the library can generally be a chaotic time with the building filled with younger library users,” Shimmin writes. “This was not the case during 2012, tending toward quieter groups and smaller crowds.”

Shimmin told us he thinks the drop in juvenile fiction numbers is more reflective of the fifth- and sixth-grade classes. At that age, most are out of day care but not yet into sports, which begin at seventh grade. All of those pupils are “looking for a hangout,” he said, but, from year to year each group of tweeners may choose the library more or less.

However, programming like storytimes, family movie nights, crafts and summer reading continue to see growth as more than 6,500 — some 200 more than 2011 — joined in.

Shimmin figures the even easier use of Netflix and increased use of Redbox have cut into DVD borrowing.

This year was the first year that every fifth- through 12th-grade pupil at West Branch Community Schools received a MacBook, which they were allowed to take home. Fifth-graders were not allowed to do so, however, until after the first quarter.

Perhaps Shimmin is right, and next year those numbers will bounce back. But it could be that the laptops are enough to keep many of the former library crowd occupied, and there is less drive to socialize after school.

It will be interesting to follow these numbers in the coming years.

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