Ask Greg Edwards what made the downtown branch of the
Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
the busiest in North America last year and you might think you were talking to a large retailer.
He refers to library patrons as customers and books and other materials as the library’s product. He talks frequently of using library data to anticipate trends, primarily in the exploding digital world.
“We haven’t cut our materials as some libraries have done to cut costs. We’ve made every effort to keep our product on our shelves,’’ says Edwards, library services director. “It makes sense to us to provide what our customers need and want.
“We listen to customer demand.”
The Public Library Association
survey ranked the Cincinnati Library’s downtown branch, at 800 Vine St., the busiest in terms of materials borrowed in 2011. About 6 million books and other materials – or about 34 percent of the system’s 17.6 million items - were borrowed from the downtown branch alone.
The total system was ranked the eighth busiest in terms of circulation in North America, Edwards says.
The Cincinnati Library was compared with 1,300 public libraries that included the largest in the United States and Canada. Last year was the busiest year in terms of circulation since the library’s founding in 1853, and circulation was up 8 percent year over year, Edwards says.
“This shows us that people value the library and this particular library branch,’’ Edwards says. “This demonstrates the support, trust and the need people have for their library … It makes you feel good.”
Continual changes and upgrades to products and services the main branch offers also helped fuel the high circulation.
• Just last week, the Library launched a new “Google-like” catalogue system
that allows users to search and find exactly the materials they are seeking for. The system also lets users both leave and read reviews and recommendations.
• In February, the Library launched a robust mobile app
that lets smartphone owners check their account, search the catalog, download eBooks and audiobooks and use their phones to search barcodes on books to see if the Library has a copy in its collection. More than 7,000 people have downloaded the app and have run 557,749 queries, Edwards says.
• The Library’s Virtual Library
lets users download thousands of books, music, magazines and newspaper articles. Last year, there were 470,725 downloads of materials – a 518 percent increase from 2010. Edwards says digital downloads will likely double to more than 800,000 in 2012.
• The Library’s Virtual Information Center
, which is a team of librarians who answer emails, call or text messages 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
While there is no doubt technology improvements fueled circulation gains, Paula Brehm-Heeger also points to changes made in services and to the physical layout of 542,500-square-foot downtown branch.
Brehm-Heeger, library services manager for the central region which includes downtown, credits a two-year project
that analyzed how patrons were using the library to make changes to staffing, the layout and programs to more effectively meet patron needs while they were physically inside the main branch.
The library branch has added more than 100 computers, increased the services and the space devoted to teenagers, reshaped and expanded the popular library area and created “grab-and-go” displays near the front of the libraries. The library also centralized its call center to allow librarians to interact more with customers and to help them find materials.
“It is a very retail model,’’ she says. “We are very customer-focused and very forward-focused.”
• On the go, check out the Library’s mobile tools.
• Got a question about the Library, chat online with a librarian
, day or night.
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By Chris Graves
Chris Graves, assistant vice president for Social and Digital Media at the Powers Agency, uses the Library’s Mobile App at least weekly.