Mid-Columbia Libraries making changes to serve the public

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 7, 2013 

Library needs

Shelly Walchesky of Pasco and her son Austin, 2, look over books at the new West Pasco branch of the Mid-Columbia Library. Library officials are looking at better meeting the needs of all residents, particularly after a survey of lapsed card users indicates they have different needs and habits that regular users.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Mid-Columbia Libraries officials said a recent survey of lapsed library card users shows not everyone is up to date on what their branches have to offer.

"Sixty percent of them don't know we have e-books," Executive Director Kyle Cox said, adding many respondents said they were paying for those digital materials from websites such as Amazon. The library offers tens of thousands of digital books, magazines and other materials for free.

Libraries have expanded beyond books, offering DVDs and CDs, computers with Internet access, and audiobooks, e-books and e-magazines to download straight onto your smartphone or tablet. You can manage your library account online and place holds on books or renew them, or pay overdue book fines.

Libraries are meant to serve everyone, not just their heaviest users, and that means there will be some changes to how the library district's branches operate and how they communicate with the public, said library spokeswoman Jennifer Aalgaard.

Mid-Columbia Libraries' 12 branch libraries, bookmobile and outreach teams provide library services to the almost 200,000 residents of Benton, Franklin, and parts of Adams counties.

"The techniques we use to reach out are going to have to change," said Aalgaard. "We have to go to them."

An outside researcher hired by the library district conducted the survey in late spring by phone with 450 library card holders who hadn't used their cards in a year and a half.

Cox said there were some expected results, such as respondents overwhelmingly associating books with the library. About half of the card holders had two or more cards in their household, likely meaning they are checking out materials, but using only one of their cards.

Most also said the library was at least moderately important to them and their families, that the library had improved in the past year and its services are easy to use.

But some of the responses differed compared with results from general satisfaction surveys conducted in the recent past. Respondents said they want to browse the shelves, unlike the average library user who visits the library to look for specific items to check out.

Almost half of the lapsed card users said they visited a branch in the past six months and said they didn't always know what the library had to offer, be it events or services.

Those responses prompted library officials to step up their marketing efforts.

Aalgaard said she began the library district's Twitter account this year. Twitter and the libraries' Facebook account are being heavily used, she said.

Cox said the library district already is experimenting with a new "inter-filing" system.

The new organizational approach was put in place at the west Pasco branch when it opened and puts different types of materials -- from DVDs to books to reference materials -- covering the same topic side by side on the shelf, making it easier to browse.

It's unlike the Dewey Decimal system, which organizes books by general subject area, and then alphabetically by author. Books also are shelved so the front cover is visible.

"More and more people just want to look for new things," Cox said, noting the new system makes it easier to stumble upon materials more easily.

Library officials said the changes won't appeal to all library users and there have been some complaints from regulars about the change in how libraries are arranged.

But most of the responses to the changes and increased outreach have been positive.

"We want to go from good to great," Aalgaard said. "How do we go from a four to a five?"

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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