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Library circulation, online contacts growing fast

MASON CITY — Renovation of the Mason City Public Library has helped increase circulation of materials and transform it into what Library Director Mary Markwalter calls “an indoor park” for acquiring knowledge.
Above: Mary Markwalter, director of the Mason City Public Library, displays the brochure that was developed to help patrons get the most out of their newly renovated library and its online offerings.
By Joe Buttweiler|MASON CITY — Renovation of the Mason City Public Library has helped increase circulation of materials and transform it into what Library Director Mary Markwalter calls “an indoor park” for acquiring knowledge.

Circulation of books has gone from about three items per capita ñ based on the city’s population of about 27,000 ñ to just fewer than nine per capita, she said. That includes physical books, but not audio books, periodicals, DVDs or access to online databases.
If you look at them all together, circulation is just over 12 per capita, which beats the national average of 10, Markwalter said.

The numbers include a couple months in which the library was closed, so the figures will be significantly higher after the library has been open a full year after renovation. It reopened Oct. 21 following a $9.2 million upgrade.

Besides floor plans and furnishings that are more user-friendly, the library upgraded its website and developed a brochure to help patrons get the most out of the library and its online resources.

The brochure provides a map of the library, information on hours, archives, meeting rooms, programs and services, the coffee shop and, of course, library cards.

The upgraded website lists new books, upcoming programs, and provides easy links to popular online databases and services.

Markwalter said the growth in electronic communication via the library website and Facebook, Twitter and MySpace accounts and blogs has skyrocketed, rising from about 9,000 in 2009 to 72,000 in 2010.

“That really tells me where we need to be headed ñ what direction we need to go,” Markwalter said. “We need to focus more time and attention to these sites.”

The library’s website, click here, offers a wide variety of online services including live homework help from; the NEIBORS (North Eastern Iowa Bridge to Online Resource Sharing) system , which offers e-book and audio book downloads; Byki (Before You Know it) language learning system; and the Elf library materials tracking system.

The homework hotline provides live help from 3 p.m. to midnight every day except on major holidays, offering help in English and Spanish, Markwalter said. Help topics include essay writing, English, science and calculus, as well as resume- and cover-letter writing help.

Use of the NEIBORS system for downloads has averaged 115 a month. Use “ebbs and flows,” Markwalter said, but there was a marked increase in November. With more people getting e-readers, use of that system will likely climb steadily, she said. The site lists e-readers that are compatible with the system (Amazon’s Kindle is not).

Also online, library patrons can search the card catalog and put items on hold, and find out about what new items will be arriving soon. There are also services providing information on genealogy and on hobbies and crafts.

Four of the 20-plus public access computers at the library are designated for education research and job-searching. Users of those four computers are allowed to spend more than the usual one hour per day that is available to computer users at the library, Markwalter said.

“As more and more people have computers and handheld devices, we see more and more demand for these databases and online services,” she said.

The best way to learn about the online resources is to log in and explore them, she said, adding that the depth and variety is remarkable. Someone recently asked for a professional journal for bartenders. Sure enough, several were found.

Markwalter said library leadership and staff ñ 17 full-time and one part-time employee ñ will continue to evaluate needs and services. “Any organization, if you want to stay relevant, needs to change and adapt to what people want and need and how they use things.”

Tomorrow: Library update irony not lost on director|

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