Friday, February 6-County Libraries Record User Spike

SNOW HILL – Cash-strapped and financially worried Worcester Countians are trekking to the local libraries for their entertainment, with local libraries showing a 17.7-percent increase in visitors since July 2008.

The county’s five library branches saw 253,753 people walk through their doors between July 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2008, libraries director Mark Thomas reported to the Worcester County Commissioners.

“I just thought at a time when at the local and state and national level good news is kind of an endangered species, I thought I’d pass some along,” Thomas told elected officials at the Tuesday Ccounty Commissioner meeting.

Public library use is up nationwide, Thomas said, which puts Worcester County squarely in the center of a national trend.

“Every single branch is showing significant increases in both traffic count, people coming through the doors, and check out of materials,” said Thomas. “We are much, much busier.”

Patrons checked out more books and other materials, 34.4 percent more, in that six-month period. That’s a total of 268,768 items, from books to DVDs.

According to charts supplied by Thomas, Worcester County’s libraries have seen a steady increase in patronage and items checked out over the last six years.

In the same period of time in 2003-2004, all five county libraries recorded 164,000 items checked out, 100,000 items fewer than just in the latter half of 2008.

The Berlin branch saw an 8,789-item increase in checked-out materials from the same period in 2007 to 2008, while Ocean City showed a 29,055-item increase, explained partially by the new facility, and Ocean Pines showed 13,456 more items checked out.

Commissioner Judy Boggs praised Thomas and the county public library system for coping with the greater demand with no increase in staff.

“Your volunteers do an outstanding job,” Boggs told Thomas.

“If not for the volunteers, we would be heavily underwater,” Thomas said.

In the letter reporting the increase, dated Jan. 23, Thomas emphasized that he is not asking for additional funding.

“I am not making a pitch for more money because there isn’t any,” Thomas wrote. “I am not making a pitch for a lesser budget reduction because that isn’t fair or reasonable, and I realize there are pressures on all the services that the county provides.”