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Library districts focus on boosting number of users, services

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About half of all Johnson County residents have library cards, but officials say the percentage of people actually using local libraries is significantly higher.

Across the state, about 61 percent of residents served by library districts have a library card, according to 2012 statistics from the Indiana State Library. All three Johnson County library districts have a lower percentage than the state average.

Edinburgh Wright-Hageman Public Library is closest with 60 percent of residents with library cards, Greenwood Public Library has 55 percent signed up for cards, and Johnson County Public Library has 48 percent.

Library cards are needed to check out books or videos but aren’t required for other tasks, such as using library computers, attending evening programs or stopping in to read newspapers and magazines, library directors said.

Peopl who don’t have a library card can and do still use the library, Johnson County Public Library director Beverly Martin said. Visitors aren’t being checked for a library card if they bring their children to story time or come in to get copies of court forms, she said.

During a visitor count in September, Edinburgh had about 250 people check out books in one week but also recorded 28 people using fax machines, more than 50 using copiers and several more coming in daily, to do things such as to read the newspaper, director Cathy Hamm said. In February, residents can get help preparing taxes. For some people that yearly service is the only time they visit the library, but it’s well-used every year, she said.

Local libraries work to offer new programs and services to keep people using their branches. For example, the number of people coming into Johnson County Public Library branches has declined by about 10 percent compared with a year ago, and library officials are getting ready to implement changes in a new five-year plan with the goal of drawing those users back.

Those efforts will include programs such as trying to get every elementary school student signed up for a library card, partnering with schools to provide more resources such as databases or computer programs for student projects or starting new programs to help people search for jobs or learn about health insurance.

The push to get every elementary school student a library card will educate children about what the library offers aside from books, said Franklin branch manager Sarah Taylor, who is leading the effort.

Ideally those children will want to use their new library card, which will bring them and their family into the library, she said.

“The whole point is not so that we have more cardholders, it’s not about statistics. It’s about going to these children and saying, ‘We invite you to our libraries, and we want you to use it.’ It makes them feel special, it makes them feel wanted,” Taylor said.

Johnson County Public Library will start with attracting elementary school students, but the library card drive could be expanded to all grade levels, Taylor said. The county library district also plans to partner more with local schools to provide research databases or other resources that could be useful to students working on papers or projects, she said.

Libraries often offer new library cards to people who don’t have them during outreach programs at day cares or schools. For example, Greenwood Public Library offered new library cards to families in a partnership with Esperanza en Jesuchristo ministry. Children could practice their reading, while parents used the library computers to learn to navigate school websites and track their child’s progress, Greenwood library director Cheryl Dobbs said.

“Focus is always on welcoming the entire family to our services. New library cards are an important part of what we offer through these outreach opportunities, but the goal is always to offer real value and meet need,” Dobbs said.

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