Residents liking Huntington, Markle libraries more as circulation surges

Huntington City-Township Public Library Director Beka Lemons stands in one of the many aisles containing DVDs that can be checked out of the Huntington library. Lemons says the circulation fees have now been dropped, contributing to an upswing in circulation.
Huntington City-Township Public Library Director Beka Lemons stands in one of the many aisles containing DVDs that can be checked out of the Huntington library. Lemons says the circulation fees have now been dropped, contributing to an upswing in circulation. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Sept. 14, 2015.

It seems that Huntington city and township residents are liking their library more and more, and Director Beka Lemons has the numbers to prove it. She says circulation is up in double digits at the Huntington City-Township Public Library, both at the Huntington branch and at the Markle location as well.

“This past month, in August, we had our biggest month of August in the last six years here in Huntington, and that was a 32 percent increase from last year,” Lemons says. “In Markle we actually had a 37 percent increase from last year.”

Overall, circulation – figured by the number of times a book, DVD or other item is checked out of the library or renewed – is up 14 percent this year.

Lemons says there are a number of reasons why people are checking more materials from the library, but the main one is a change to ordering the kinds of materials the patrons want.

“What my focus has been has been to change the philosophy to make the whole operation completely patron focused,” she says. “So everything we do, we do with the patron in mind.”

Lemons has been the director of HCTPL for little more than a year, and has spearheaded the more consumer-friendly approach to library policies. One of the most popular has been eliminating the $2 checkout fee on DVDs, sparking a surge in circulation of movies and videos on disc, as much as 60 to 70 percent.

But the printed word has not gone out of style yet at the library; circulation is up in books as well, surprisingly among young people.

“We’re still seeing increases in adult books, children’s books,” Lemons said. “We’re seeing some great increases in young adult books that you don’t often see. A lot of that is just our collection development. We’re buying things that people want.”

Lemons says patrons are clamoring for best-sellers and the latest releases. The library has updated its collection while still spending the same amount of money, she says.

“We used to put quite a lot of our money into non-fiction, maybe more research-type of materials that were very expensive and didn’t get a lot of use, so we kind of shifted that money back into getting fiction, getting large print, getting more music – the things that people really want to have and use,” she says. “Instead of buying a whole bunch of exercise videos and documentaries and things like that, we’ll now buy a few of those – enough to have a core collection – and then we’ll buy some of the popular TV series. We’ll focus on some of the things that people can’t get on a basic television or cable subscription. We’ll get the HBO and Showtime things that people don’t see if they don’t have access to that kind of thing.”

Another policy has been changed, to allow unlimited checkouts on books and up to six DVDs per patron.

“You can take whatever you want from wherever you want,” Lemons explains. “We shifted a lot of our reference collection, which was really hands-off, and we shifted a lot of that back into the circulating collection so people can take it home and use it, because that’s what it’s there for.”

Membership has also increased, up five percent from January through August.

“It’s been busier,” Lemons says. “We’ve had more people come in and hang out, use the library, study in here, get on their laptop, all of that stuff. We really try to make it a place where people want to come, want to stay. That will get them checking out books. But really we just want them to use the library.”

Meeting room use has increased as well, prompting the staff to open two new meeting room spaces to the public.

The library’s programs have also been a hit, focusing on fun that gets people – mostly kids – learning without even knowing it. The recent “Superheroes” summer library reading program was a supreme example, with the first HCTPL “Comic Con” drawing a lot of attention. Lemons says the goal with programming is to do things that are educational but still fun.

“Obviously we want to get kids in here to learn something, but in order to do that they have to want to come,” she explains. “So we do things like the pool noodle toss – which is silly and goofy, but it’s also teaching the kids about physics, about aerodynamics, it’s teaching them about trial and error … The library is not just about books; it’s about learning, more than anything.”

Lemons has more plans coming up on the horizon, beginning the end of this year and heading into 2016. A community book-sharing program will be launched yet this year. Staff will also move some of the collections and new furniture will spruce the place up a bit, she says. A new programming committee will begin soon to focus on upcoming programs. And of course, the library will continue to purchase the materials that people want.

“Our main goal is to think about the patron. It’s not about us; it’s about the patron,” she says. “By doing that we’re going to really create a library that’s community focused and a place where people want to be.”