SIOUX CENTER—The Sioux Center Public Library has continued to expand its collection and program options over the past fiscal year and has enough physical and electronic holdings to rival those of the Sioux City and Waterloo libraries.
That’s some of the information shared by Library Director Becky Bilby during her annual report to the Sioux Center City Council at its Jan. 5 meeting.
The size of a library’s collection varies from year to year and isn’t the most important metric, Bilby said, but the Sioux Center library has seen strong statistics on that front. The library had in its collection for fiscal year 2021 159,176 physical and downloadable documents. There has been a steady increase over the past three years, as there were 156,095 of these materials in 2020 and 140,630 in 2019.
More important to note is the rate of circulation that a library sees; ie the number of physical documents borrowed by customers.
For fiscal year 2019, 234,904 items were checked out from the library. In 2020, this figure fell to 197,910 and in 2021 it was 195,839. Including downloadable documents, this number increases to 248,135.
“Circulation is bread and butter and the big deal in the library world,” Bilby said, adding, “We’re still making a comeback. Libraries across the country are seeing a downward trend in physical checkouts at the People no longer come to the library to write reports or to look at stacks of books, they do everything online.
The continued rise of online streaming services also means that the library’s DVD collection is not as in demand as it once was. Most of the borrowed books are what Bilby calls pleasure reading and self-help. Non-fiction isn’t moving as much as before either.
But things look better when you add electronic documents downloaded to the totals. When that’s done, the library had 221,022 checkouts for its materials in fiscal year 2021. That’s one of the highest for Iowa libraries in cities with 5,000 to 10,000 residents and corresponds more to the libraries of Sioux City and Waterloo.
“It means our community uses their library and that’s why we do what we do,” Bilby said.
Bilby said it takes a lot of work to keep promoting the digital offerings available at the library, but there is a need to make sure people are aware it’s there for them and how it can be used.
“Once you’ve done that, it really pays off,” Bilby said. “It’s an easy thing to have and give people.”
And with these trends in mind, more money is being allocated to digital assets.
All of this with 7,558 customers for 2021. About 1,000 of those are outside of Sioux County. There were 6,484 registered patrons in 2020 and 6,623 in 2019.
Programming continues to play an important role in engaging with audiences, and the number of programs has increased over the past three years, according to Bilby.
There were 544 programs running at the library in 2021, 509 in 2020, and 462 in 2019.
“It’s a merit for each of them to be able to think outside the box,” Bilby said.
Councilman Eric Moerman said the library’s programs helped his fifth-grade daughter learn new skills.
“My daughter sews, cooks, programs on a computer. It’s amazing the programs you offer there and congratulations to you guys for that,” he said.
Another important metric recorded year over year is the library’s meeting room rental rates.
There were 1,216 meeting room rentals in fiscal 2021 and 1,378 in fiscal 2020. In fiscal 2019, there were 1,084 rentals.
“COVID has also taught people that you can work from home and you need a quiet place to work from home,” Bilby said. “So our small meeting rooms are busy. Often they are full. We have business people and all kinds of different people who come to use these small meeting rooms for a conference call or whatever. These figures are excellent and we are delighted.
The library lab was the most used meeting space in 274 rentals, but that’s due to use by Northwest Iowa Community College, which has an agreement with the library to host some classes there.
Otherwise, the study hall is widely used with 214 rentals.
To strengthen its holdings, the library continues to seek grants and funding opportunities. Bilby reported that in the last fiscal year the library received $5,000 from the Sioux Center Generations Grant to purchase new bookshelves, $1,500 from the General Summer Reading Grant for the Summer Reading Program from the library, $5,000 from the Americans Rescue Grant for the use of electronic resources. due to COVID-19 and five cans of paint donated by Diamond Vogel as part of the Keep Iowa Beautiful Grant.
One of the challenges the library faces is meeting the needs of Spanish-speaking patrons. Often, these Spanish-speaking visitors need help filling out online job applications. Some of these people have difficulty using a computer, requiring another level of assistance.
“We have four people on staff who can help them,” Bilby said. “I employ two people in the office all the time. When taken to fill out an application, reception can get a bit chaotic. We have tried to institute from January 1 that three times a week we give them a little card in Spanish that says to come during those times when we will have people available to help. But they are not really satisfied with that yet.