With the Bronx turning a new page with the start of the new year, Bronxites were turning a LOT of pages last year.
A new report by the Center for an Urban Future shows that Bronx had the fastest growth in public library usage of any borough over the last decade, with the Bronx’s 35 public library branches experiencing a 102% increase in circulation and 134% jump in program attendance since 2002.
The report documents 19 of the 35 local branches at least doubled their attendance since 2002.
Gesille Dixon, branch manager for 18 locations in the borough including Parkchester, Westchester Square, City Island and Clason’s Point, said she thinks the increase in circulation and attendance is mainly due to staff getting out into the community and letting people know about programs at each branch.
Bringing people back
“I think we’ve started realizing that engaging people with educational programming is bringing people back,” she said.
“Everyone is afraid of the digital age coming and libraries going away, but I think it is quite the opposite. A lot of people come in wanting to know about the library app, and a lot of our staff has been trained in these devices. A lot of our programming and technology classes have focused on training people how to use their own devices.”
Deborah Acosta, branch manager for the Pelham Bay Library on Middletown Road, said she thinks library usage has increased over the years because the need for technology has gone up.
“When we open in the morning, people are waiting outside to use the computers. As soon as kids get out of school, they are coming into use them,” she said. “Quite a few of our patrons don’t have computers at home, so this is the only place they can use one.”
But while the report shows Bronx libraries serving a record number of residents, they are open fewer hours than most other large urban library systems, due to the growing digital age.
The report shows that circulation at library branches in the Bronx reached 5.36 million in 2011 while 347,859 people in the borough attended education programs.
Four local branches had the highest program attendance in the city.
Despite the positive trends, the report notes that the Bronx still has the lowest circulation per capita of any borough.
The study points out that the New York Public Library invested nearly $110 million in new buildings and major renovations in the Bronx over the last decade, including the $40 million Bronx Library Center, which moved into a new five-story building near Fordham Road in 2006.
After renovations were finished on the Grand Concourse branch in 2003, program attendance grew from about 4,000 per year to well over 18,000, and circulation rose 113%.
A new High Bridge branch opened in 2010, and circulation shot up 170%, while program attendance rose 275%.
According to the report, libraries in the Bronx have benefited from strong support from Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. over the last decade.
Between 2003 and 2012, the Borough President’s office spent $14.37 per person on libraries, compared to $24.33 per person from the Queens Borough President and less than $8 per person from the borough presidents in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island.
Overall, the report found New York City’s public libraries are serving more people in more ways than ever before and have become an increasingly critical part of the city’s human capital system, while being undervalued by policy makers and facing growing threats in today’s digital age.
Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (718) 742-3394