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Beltrami County Board: Bemidji library sees 'significant' growth this year

Paul Ericsson, Bemidji Public Library branch manager, tells Beltrami County commissioners last week that the library is seeing more than a 9 percent increase in patrons and in materials checked out. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

The Bemidji Public Library is seeing more than a 9 percent increase in users, says Paul Ericsson, branch manager.

"We've seen a significant amount of growth this year," Ericsson said recently in a briefing to Beltrami County commissioners.

Library customers rose 9.2 percent in year-to-date figures, from 177,667 in 2008 to 193,990 this year. And circulation of materials is also up 9.4 percent, from 167,711 last year to 183,423 this year.

"Libraries are an especially important institution and provide heavily used, cost-effective services in difficult economic times," Ericsson said. "We are on track to exceed 1997, which previously had been our highest annual circulation."

The Bemidji library, part of the Kitchigami Regional Library System, plans to increase programming this year, thanks to a nearly $300,000 grant from the new Legacy fund to KRL, raised from the constitutionally authorized state sales tax hike that took effect July 1.

"We have a history of doing very good programs for children," Ericsson said. "Events and programs are a large growth area."

Library goals are to offer events that encourage reading, strengthening literacy, provide informational content, plus events that are engaging, he said. Legacy funds will help fund a planned August Bemidji Book Festival, which calls for a series of author visits and other events to promote reading, literature and literacy.

The library prefers to work with small groups of children, making it easier for one-on-one reading sessions, he said. "There is some intimacy between library staff and children."

A Lapsit program allows parents to read to their 2-year-olds while they sit on a parent's lap. "We have programs for early literacy so children are ready for kindergarten," Ericsson said. "Children are engaged in active reading in the home."

The library's goals for 2009 are to "strength and sustain," in keeping with KRL's strategic plan for 2009-11.

The Bemidji library's total materials budget was $33,120 in 2008, with customers checking out 196,884 items. "The average direct purchase cost per circulation is less than 17 cents," Ericsson said. "The average book costs more than $20. This is one example of the substantial cost effectiveness of public library services."

Recent improvements have also been made to the library building, he said. In 2008, three large projects of painting and re-carpeting the entire interior were done, and upgrading lighting. Funding was provided by the city of Bemidji, the Neilson Foundation and private donors.

"Significant amount of work moving books and furniture was done by volunteers and Sentence to Service crews," Ericsson said.

This year, the library will complete renovations to two large service desks to allow patrons to be seated and for easy wheelchair access when working with staff, he said. "Again, all of this work is done through a grant from the Neilson Foundation and donations from the Friends of the Library, from many of the area townships and private donors."

The library also continues outreach efforts with other organizations in the community, he said.

"We regularly participate in the Early Childhood Initiative and the former Beltrami Area Service Collaborative Youth Activity Action Team," Ericsson said. "Partnerships are with many groups such as Early Childhood Family Education, 4-H, Boys & Girls Club, Headwaters School for Arts and Music and the Headwaters Science Center.,"

Activities planned for 2010 include a readership role in Fathers Reading Every Day events sponsored by the Early Childhood Initiative.

In year-to-date figures, children participation in Storytime sessions is up, 1,358 children this year compared to 1,035 a year ago. Special program attendance has climbed from 546 patrons to 1,121. And Internet public computer users grew from 17,116 this time a year ago to 21,808 this year.

"In the next few years we will see a large influx of resources for library events and programs from the Minnesota Legacy amendment funds," he said.