The coronavirus pandemic helped reset a lot of routines, and that appears to be true for our use of the county library system. A story in Today's News-Herald reports that library use in August was less than half of what it was in August 2019. Across Mohave County, the library district served 21,862 visitors in August, compared to 48,975 for the same time period two years earlier.
Interestingly, digital check-outs — that is, people who are using library services to download digital versions of books and other media — are up by more than 60 percent, according to library records.
Of course, it's hard to know whether these trends are here to stay, or if they're manufactured by limited library operations during the pandemic. Local libraries were among the last government institutions to reopen to the public, so the message that our library branches are up and running might not be getting out into the community. And if that's true, it's understandable why people are turning to digital services provided by the library.
It'll take some time before we know for sure.
If the surge in digital growth and the decline in physical visits continue, don't be surprised to see county supervisors consider taking a closer look at library funding. There's a lot of overhead, after all, in running a brick-and-mortar operation. Closures, or reduction in the services provided by a physical location, would be a bad thing for residents who rely on libraries to serve as community centers, meeting spaces, as well as a place to discover culture.
To avoid such dramatic changes, libraries ought to fully open all services and get the word out to their constituents that they've reopened for business.
— Today's News-Herald