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Waupaca library offers more than books

On a typical day, a visitor to the Waupaca Area Public Library will see people of all ages there – and for many different reasons.

Some adults visit daily to read newspapers. Others go to the library to use the public-access Internet computers.

Teens drop in after school and walk downstairs to go to the Best Cellar, a space designed specifically for them. Families with young children also go to the library’s lower level to visit the children’s department or to participate in story time.

This week is National Library Week, and libraries throughout the nation are celebrating in special ways.

Waupaca’s library is once again holding Food for Fines Week and is also offering free replacement library cards to those who bring donations for the Waupaca Area Food Pantry.

“We have a very supportive community,” said library director Peg Burington.

Library board President Mary Trice recently presented the library’s 2010 annual report to the Waupaca Common Council.

She told the council that while circulation declined slightly in 2010 – from an all-time high of 305,499 in 2009 to 302,461 in 2010 – reference questions reached an all-time high last year.

The number of reference questions in 2010 was 21,567, which compares to 20,798 in 2009.

Burington suspects the number of reference questions was up because more people need information, whether it is a question about how to do a job search or about Social Security.

“We are tracking questions in all departments,” she said.

Library users made 178,097 visits to the library in 2010.

And with the library open a total of 2,900 hours per year, that translates into 61 visits per hour.

The library’s circulation totaled 302,461 items in 2010. Of that number, 53 percent were books, 38 percent were movies, and 10 percent were music and audio books, Trice said.

Burington said the library’s circulation number has been stable, holding around 300,000 annually.

“We would have to have another ‘something’ happen to get another jump,” she said.

In 2006, the library’s teen space was remodeled to create a larger space, and that same year, the Outagamie Waupaca Library System introduced its new online catalog, Infosoup.

And, while library circulation has increased 14 percent during the last five years, the number of paid library staff has stayed the same.

These days, Burington and other library directors are concerned about Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal that includes the removal of the maintenance of effort requirement for municipalities.

“To be a part of a system, a municipality has to support the library at no less than an average of the last three years’ budgets,” she said in explaining what maintenance of effort means.

If the governor’s proposal is approved, it could mean less funds for many libraries.

Another reason why more people are visiting libraries is to use the public-access Internet computers. Waupaca’s library has 19 of them, and in 2010, more than 36,800 people used them.

“Our computers are very busy. I think our computers (usage) are pretty level with last year (2009), but we’re seeing more wireless users bringing them here to use.”

The library offers wireless access.

Burington said that in 1993, when the library moved to its current location, there were computers for staff. Those computers were used for labeling, cataloging and word processing.

“The advent of the Internet was around 1995. We had to find ways to put in more computers, and the building was not wired for that many computers. Even though the building was less than 20 years old, we had to add wiring.”

Having wireless available has taken the pressure off the need to add more computers. In 2010, a new Internet computer was added in the teen space, with another one in the area for children.

Last year was a busy year for the library. In addition to its typical programs, the library hosted the Lincoln exhibit and held its first-ever book festival.

In all, a total of 564 programs – for people of all ages – were provided in 2010.

Burington said the book festival was supported through funding from its foundation, friends group and from individual donations. No taxpayer dollars were used to put on the festival.

The library received a grant for the Lincoln exhibit, and in both the case of the exhibit and the book festival, the library drew on its volunteer source to help with those programs.

Volunteers help at the library throughout the year, doing everything from book repairs and shelving to making phone calls.

“We realized a couple years ago that it’s so labor intensive,” she said. “We could use additional volunteers.”

Burington said Waupaca’s library has a strong programming background, dating back to the 1950s when 100 children attended the library’s story times.

“I think we have had a strong programming tradition, and we’re just carrying it on,” she said.

In addition, there are programs for teens and adults, with plans this year to have for the first time ever a summer reading program for adults.

Of course, libraries continue to offer what they have always been known for – books.

“The next best seller can be yours without having to buy it,” Burington said.

In 2010, the library provided service at an average per capita cost of $50. That means if a library patron borrowed two hardcover books instead of purchased them, that patron would already get his money’s worth.

In addition, the libraries in the consortium have access to electronic books, which means patrons can download the books. The book stays on the device, disappearing when it is due.

Waupaca’s strong programming in the children’s department has carried over into the teen and adult areas, and last year’s special Lincoln exhibit and the book festival drew others to the library.

“I think the focus of libraries has been to be a community center,” Burington said. “And, this building has allowed us the space to do that.”

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