By LYDIA BERGLAR
The Dade County Public Library is beginning 2024 with another year’s worth of new patrons and titles added to the collection, as well as a pay increase for the library staff. A highlight of the year was hiring Lynn Arp as the YEC (youth education coordinator).
The year saw 404 new patrons join the library (not including the PlayCards which are issued through the schools to all students), bringing the total number of library card holders to 9,602. The library added 1,041 items to its collection.
Mindy Haworth (library branch manager) reported, “For the first time ever, we have a YEC in full-time benefit status. This allowed us to recruit, and hopefully retain, a quality candidate to fill the position. Currently, we are adequately staffed for the number of hours we are open. However, we are operating at reduced hours of 34 per week. The other branches in our region are open 40 hours per week. We would need to hire one or two part-time employees to be fully staffed for 40 hours.”
The library was open 254 days in 2023, and 29,555 people entered through the doors. On the days open, an average of 116 people visited the library.
When asked what roles she would like to see at the library (in a perfect world where money is no object), Haworth responded, “If money wasn’t an issue, I would hire a separate Teen Education Coordinator. We are extremely lucky to have hired Lynn as our YEC. She provides youth library services to the entire community, preschool through high school, but I would love to have Lynn dedicated to preschool-elementary school services and programming, with an additional staff member devoted to middle and high school services and programming.”
Regarding programs (which include reading-related, arts and crafts, lifestyle, and more) the library hosted 43 preschool programs with a total attendance of 1,287, 58 grade school programs with a total attendance of 3,650, 24 family programs with a total attendance of 446, 27 teen programs with a total attendance of 143, and 60 adult programs with a total attendance of 445.
When divided by the number of programs offered, the teen category had the lowest attendance followed closely by the adult programs, while the grade school programs saw the highest turnout. This, along with the success of the free Time with Teacher tutoring which saw 169 sessions from July to December, indicates that the library is especially valued and useful to young children, families, and elementary students. The library is not only a center for education and knowledge, but also for entertainment and fellowship.
Haworth noted that the library listens to the community and tries to provide the programs that people want and express an interest in attending.
In 2022, the total circulation (including ebooks and audiobooks) was 42,899, which rose to 55,361 in 2023. For perspective, that’s 1,064 items checked out each week of 2023 or 151 checked out each day of the year.
Haworth explained that usage of Libby (the ebook and audiobook rental platform) continues to rise, so the library uses a larger portion of its state funds for digital purchases on the platform.
Many of the technology-related tools at the library were used less than last year but still reached significant numbers. Internet/wireless usage reached 7,560 (down from 2022’s number of 8,225). At 3,019 sessions, computer usage was close to 2022’s number of 3,200 sessions. At 7,063, printer usage was up from 6,568 in 2022, but faxes were down from 96 to 64.
The library also offers notary services which were used 107 times in 2023, and the study rooms and large meeting room continue to be sought after, with a total of 518 times used in 2023.
Each year, when the county government, city government, and school board set the budget, the library is one of the line items to consider. One of Haworth’s duties is seeking funding and advocating for the library. She explained, “We rely on all three of our funding agencies for our operating budget. We are not constitutionally mandated, so funding agencies have the ability to cut our funding if times are hard. We feel valued by them and are certainly understanding of their struggle to use state and local tax dollars to fund all services our citizens and students utilize. These taxing authorities can decide the fate of the library, so it’s vital that they understand the important role a public library plays in the community.”
Haworth reported that the county government owns the library building and contributes 59 percent of the operating budget. This year, the City of Trenton increased its funding of the library so that it now funds 29 percent while the Dade County Board of Education provides the final 12 percent.
With the increase from the city, Haworth reports, “We are closer to balancing our budget. It helped us keep up with inflation and offer a four percent cost of living adjustment to all of our employees to get them to a starting salary of $11.14 per hour for library assistants and $15 per hour for our youth education coordinator. While this is an improvement over what has been offered in the past, it still does not adequately reflect the job we are asking these employees to do. Our operating budget does not allow us to pay the wages we feel are commensurate with the responsibilities of these jobs. It is reflective of the plight of libraries over the past several decades, where we have to balance services offered with staff pay and benefits.”’
At the January 4th Dade County Board of Commissioners meeting, Haworth reported on many of these statistics. She also noted the work of Friends of the Library, the non-profit partner that raises funds for the library. Friends of the Library currently have a used book sale going on at the library, and they are also selling t-shirts to raise funds for the library.
Haworth noted that Friends of the Library helps cover the cost of summer reading prizes and other purchases that extend beyond the library’s operating budget. One recent way Friends of the Library decided to use their funds is to pay for Davis Elementary School’s bus trips to the library. The end of 2022 had multiple field trips from both elementary schools, but while Dade Elementary School classes can walk to the library, Davis must drive students down Sand Mountain. Friends of the Library wants to help ensure the school can keep sending field trips to the library without bus expenses becoming an issue.