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Survey reveals use as Whatcom County libraries plan for future

About a quarter of library users increased their use as the Whatcom County Library System added digital offerings. That was one of many findings from a survey as the system, which includes the Ferndale location that opened in a new building last year, plans for the next few years.
About a quarter of library users increased their use as the Whatcom County Library System added digital offerings. That was one of many findings from a survey as the system, which includes the Ferndale location that opened in a new building last year, plans for the next few years. The Bellingham Herald

People are using county libraries more as information becomes digitized and easily accessible on mobile devices, according to a survey done by the Whatcom County Library System as it plans for the future.

A total of 2,903 people responded to the survey that asked them about their habits when it came to library use.

Of those who did, about 27 percent said their use increased as the library became more digital.

“This was a nice surprise,” said Christine Perkins, executive director of the Whatcom County Library System.

The survey also revealed, not surprisingly perhaps, that about 57 percent of those who responded use smartphones and nearly 61 percent use laptops. They also use tablets and eReaders.

Those who answered the survey also:

▪  read, a lot. Nearly 71 percent read 11 or more books a year.

▪  loved their library. About 76 percent said the likelihood they would recommend WCLS to others was a nine or 10.

▪  used their library regularly, with 77 percent doing so once a month or more often.

▪  most often used the library to check out materials. The library system also offers fun and educational activities for children and adults.

▪  borrowed DVDs from the library more frequently than music CDs. When it came to music, they were more likely to stream it, buy it or listen to the radio.

People can learn about the survey as well as the library’s proposed plans for 2016-2020 at three meetings Sept. 22 and 23 in Whatcom County.

The library system provides services through 10 branch libraries, a bookmobile, home-bound services, and its website.

It is one of six library systems in the state to serve populations of 100,001 to 250,000. Of those, it is first in circulation per capita. Bellingham is a separate library system.

As the Whatcom County Library System plans for services for the future, it will look to reduce the time people have to wait for requested items, be open more for users’ convenience, and allow people to borrow materials for longer.

Two of those needs would require the library to buy more copies of popular items. To do that, the library likely would need to narrow the materials it offers.

As for eBooks and other electronic materials, they’re being borrowed more.

In March, the library started offering a service through hoopla digital that allows people to temporarily download or stream audiobooks, movies, TV shows and music for free — all without having to first wait for someone else to return them.

“It’s getting phenomenal use and we will have to look at allocating more money to it,” Perkins said.

Digital versions of magazines offered through Zinio as well as eBooks and audiobooks through Washington Anytime Library, which requires patrons to wait their turn, also are growing in popularity.

Electronic materials now make up about 8.6 percent of total circulation, according to Perkins.

That may seem small by comparison, but “it’s growing,” she said.

“All of those electronic resources are increasing in user-ship,” Perkins added.

The trends here reflect what’s going on nationally. The number of e-readers are increasing as more people get the devices that allow them to do so, according to a 2014 study by Pew Research Center on the trend.

“Though e-books are rising in popularity, print remains the foundation of Americans’ reading habits,” the report stated. “Almost seven in ten adults (69 percent) read a book in print in the past 12 months, while 28 percent read an e-book, and 14 percent listened to an audiobook.”

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

Library meetings

People can help the Whatcom County Library System develop services for the next five years.

The library system, which provides services outside of Bellingham, is holding three meetings this month across Whatcom County to discuss its proposed plans for 2016-2020 and to get feedback from the public.

Meetings are:

▪  Tuesday, Sept. 22, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Ferndale Public Library, 2125 Main St.

▪  Tuesday, Sept. 22 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Deming Public Library, 5044 Mount Baker Highway near Deming Road.

▪  Wednesday, Sept. 23 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Lynden Public Library, 216 4th St.

Details: Call 360-305-3600 and press 3 to speak to a staff member.

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