Business is good at your local library.
The Fairfax County public library system loaned a record number of books over the past year. The system also checked out more books last month than any other 30-day period in its 60-year history.
Library officials say their patrons took out more 10 million books and other items during the fiscal year that ended June 30. That's over 400,000 more books than were checked out the previous fiscal year. And, they said, the breakneck checkout rate is continuing. In July, readers took more than 1 million books home, a county record. "Basically we're going crazy with circulation," said Sharon Scott, the system's circulation manager. "This is a very large amount of books."
Library officials say that the book borrowing has been increasing each year and that they believe there are a combination of contributing factors. One top reason, they think, is the library's improved Internet Web site.
Since September, those going to the Web site have been able to use the library's catalogue to search for books and then reserve them instantly with a click of a mouse. Web users also have been able to more easily see what books the library system has on order. Because of this, library managers think people are using the library more, because they know that a particular book will be waiting for them. Patrons also may request that the books they reserve online be sent to a branch near them.
"We'll then notify them when it's available," said Judith Anderson, the county's deputy library director. "The trip to the library is then much more worthwhile when you know there is something there for you."
Librarians said there has been particularly heavy demand for books on computers, health, travel and home decorating. And of the county's 19 branches, Pohick Regional Library in Burke and Reston Regional Library were the two busiest sites. Each loaned more than 1 million books during the last fiscal year.
The library system points to the county's continual growth as contributing to the increase in book borrowing. In addition, over the last few years, the system has been promoting programs for adults, including readings with authors and book discussion groups. Plus, the particularly hot summer weather, they say, might be bringing more people to the libraries to do some cool indoor reading.
Jacqueline Gatewood, who was at the downtown Fairfax City regional branch on Monday, said the good selection has kept her visiting the library since she moved to Fairfax Station in February. She reads science fiction and finds that the branch has more selection than the large bookstores in the area. And she uses the library's online system to see what books are in the shelves.
"They usually have three or four titles from authors I'm looking for," said Gatewood. "The bookstores usually only have "Star Trek" books, while the library has the [science fiction] classics."
But library staff members also say that since the new Internet software became available to the public, some patrons at first go a bit crazy. They get excited, said a circulation worker at the Fairfax City branch who didn't want to give her name, and start reserving books as if there's no tomorrow.
"Look at all these books on tapes on hold for one patron," said the circulation worker, pointing to a row about two feet wide on a shelf behind her.
The library system said the high borrowing rate has meant that the staff has been busy keeping the books reshelved. But officials also say that passing the milestone circulation figures has been a morale booster.
"It's enjoyable to know that people are using us," said Scott, the circulation manager. "It's rewarding to know that all the work that we're doing is being enjoyed by the community."