Pulaski County Public Library sees increase in digital service use

Trying to find things to do at home can be a bit of a problem since Gov. Holcomb ordered everyone to stay there. 
The stay at home order has caused many to resort to doing things they haven’t been able to do in a while such as go for a walk and prepare to plant a garden. They have also been reading books and watching new TV shows. 
Because of the order, many businesses have shut the doors but are still offering services. The Pulaski County Public Library is one of the places and the staff is working to find new ways to better serve patrons. 
“We are still hard at work. Just because the physical building is closed we are still working for everybody,” said Pulaski County Public Library Executive Director MacKenzie Ledley. 
To help residents who do not have a library card, the library offers patrons the chance to obtain one by using the library website. There is a $1 processing fee and the library card validation can be instant. 
Ledley said there have been snowbirds from Florida that are using the library digital services. 
“We have had several of those. We have been talking about it at our staff meeting because we were so surprised of how many we were getting,”  Ledley said. 
The library has followed the trends of most other libraries across the nation. Doors of the building are closed but digital services are flourishing. 
The Public Library Association conducted a survey of libraries from March 24-April 1. The survey had 17 questions that included what services the libraries are still offering. The organization received 2,545 surveys back which is about 28% of the U.S. library systems. 
According to the survey, 76% of libraries extended online renewal policies, 74% expanded online checkout services and 61% added virtual programming. About 41% of the libraries expanded online virtual reference/help, 38% expanded phone reference/help, 22% made curbside pickup available and 6% delivered collection items to patrons.   
Ledley said the most popular digital service the library has right now is Hoopla. Traditionally patrons would average about 10 downloads per month, since the library doors have closed.
When the pandemic started, the library board increased the number of Hoopla downloads a patron can have to better serve them. The library pays for the items such as someone would pay for iTunes.
Hoopla can be hooked up to a smart TV and used on devices so movies and TV shows can be seen from anywhere. The digital services also include audiobooks, comics and e-books.  
“It gives us a whole bunch of options and we just pay based on what the patrons want,” Ledley said. “Since they increased the usage and the pandemic started we have experienced a 21% increase with that service.” 
In the month of March, patrons have downloaded 133 audiobooks, six comics, 90 e-books, 42 movies, 11 songs and 38 TV shows.
OverDrive is another digital service the library offers. It’s more geared toward offering e-books, audiobooks and magazines. Ledley said it can be used through the Libby app which makes it easier to use. The library has seen a 17% increase in the use of it. At times patrons have to wait a little longer on books because they may already be checked out. 
“All these individual services — the parent companies— have been wonderful about expanding their services during this time,” Ledley said. She used the example that OverDrive has taken the waiting period off of some of the books so they can now be borrowed instantaneously. 
One of the other digital services patrons can find on the library website is Freegal that offers music. Patrons can download the music but Ledley said the streaming has changed. Patrons were only able to stream music for a number of hours and now it’s unlimited.
Ledley said in honor of National Library Week, library employees have created playlists, “so people can listen to what the staff members like to listen to. It’s an option to encourage people to check out Freegal and we will be inviting the public to create their own playlist too.” 
The hope is that once patrons have created a playlist that their family and friends will listen too. 
“We are hoping to create some community with that too,” Ledley said. 
The use of the service hasn’t increased much during the last month. 
One of the other actions the library took to better serve patrons was expanding the WiFi to the library parking lot for people to use. The library typically keeps track of the WiFi use and continues to. Ledley said those statistics have dropped but she anticipates the numbers to increase with the expansion.   
Ledley said the West Side Center in Medaryville that has wireless service 24/7 is being used by five to 10 users per day. During a typical time, the center would have few users. 
As the library continues to think about ways to serve the public and reach all of their patrons, library staff is realizing that some patrons are being left behind. The library has focused on spreading the word about the library services on Facebook but there are several patrons who don’t use the internet. 
“We have been ready for this but if people are not on the internet we still have to be able to meet their needs,” Ledley said. “Some of the staff thought about this up front and said we should be reaching people by phone or writing letters.”   
The staff is working to identify who does not use the internet and are writing and calling them. They are also thinking about outside the covers of the books and coming up with new processes that will soon be shared with patrons.

See more stories in the Pulaski County Journal, available in print and online for digital subscribers.

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