Libraries still among most popular places in Harford

What's the most popular place in town?

In Harford County, it's likely to be the local library.

More than 1.8 million walk-in visits were logged at the Harford County Public Library's 11 branches for the second year in a row, according to the annual fiscal year report Library Director Mary Hastler presented during a recent session of the Board of Library Trustees.

Almost 10.9 million visits were made to the library's website and online catalog between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014, according to Hastler's report, while 423,000 people logged in on one of the library's public computers and 862,000 used the library's online databases.

In the past fiscal year, 260,800 items were checked out from the library's digital collection, which includes a variety of e-books, movies and games provided through several vendors.

The gain in digital over 2013, during which 197,001 items were checked out, was 31 percent.

As digital was rising, however, total walk-in visits were off about 2.8 percent across the system, part of which may be explained by several days last winter when libraries were closed for bad weather. Total visits for 2014 were 1,839,017 compared to 1,892,426 in 2013.

"People are becoming more aware of the products we offer," Hastler said, noting that people who use the library are becoming more familiar with digital delivery devices – e-readers, tablets and smart phones – and how to access the library from them.

This is happening with people of all ages, she emphasized. "People in general are comfortable with our digital products; they are confident with new formats."

While her report shows digital is on the move, accounting for 6.32 percent of total circulation of 4,129,644 items last fiscal year, board chairperson Alex Allman said he was surprised to see circulation of traditional books remained steady.

"People love their books," Hastler replied.

Total circulation in 2014 increased .46 percent compared to 2013, when 4,110,684 items were circulated.

Attendance at the library's myriad programs also increased year-to-year, with 204,485 attending in 2014, a 3.7 percent increase from 197,211 in 2013.

A recent case, the annual Summer Reading Program, with themes this year of "Fizz, Boom, READ" and "Spark a Reaction," got off to a booming start, with more than 3,300 young readers signing up in person or online on the first day, June 16. The program runs to Aug. 16.

As of the middle of last week, Hastler said, 14,461 had signed up for Summer Reading and 1,675 had completed the program, 10 books for children entering kindergarten through fifth grade in "Fizz, Boom, READ" and three books for middle and high schoolers in "Spark a Reaction."

One area where traffic was down was at the library system's drive-through windows at the Abingdon, Bel Air, Edgewood and Joppa branches. There were 89,587 drive-through visits logged in 2014, according to Hastler's report, down almost 10 percent from 99,480 in 2013.

So what are the busiest branches in the Harford library system?

According to Hastler's report, about one in four items checked out system-wide last year came from the Bel Air library, 1,058,254 items.

The Abingdon library posted the next highest circulation at 763,000 items, followed by the Aberdeen library with 357,042 items circulated. Circulation figures are based on where the items are physically, and the Bel Air and Abingdon libraries have the system's largest collections.

According to Hastler's monthly report for June, there were 41,261 walk-in visits to the Bel Air library last month, 3,930 drive-though visits and 94,405 items circulated. The Bel Air library serves a an estimated population of 73,432, according to the report.

Circulation figures for the other branches last year were: Fallston, 290,000; Edgewood, 285,340; Jarrettsville, 279,487; Havre de Grace, 233,979; Whiteford, 230,917; Joppa, 184,512; Norrisville, 65,864; and Darlington, 37,904.

Also increasing in Harford last year were inter-library loans from other systems, up almost 28 percent to 28,197 items from 21,004 in 2013.

The library also circulates about 1,500 items per month at the Harford County Detention Center, according to Hastler's report.

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