SILVER SPRING – In two years, the number of e-books and audio that were downloaded from the Montgomery County library jumped from 730,000 in fiscal year 2017 to 1.1 million this fiscal year.
“It’s shooting up,” declared Anita Vassallo, director of Montgomery County Public Libraries.
“The technology becomes easier and easier to use,” she said.
That increase did not seem to affect the number of physical books that were circulated, she said, noting the amount stayed reasonably constant at around 10 million per year.
Total circulation rose slightly from 2.3 million during fiscal year 2017 to 2.45 million this year.
But books are far from the only thing the 21 library branches offer.
People come to use the computers and workspace, and they also take advantage of its free offerings to take practice tests and career-enhancing courses.
This year, library computers were utilized for 18 million minutes, according to the year-end library report.
A Montgomery County library card also enables residents to stream movies and listen to music.
Library employees are striving to spread the word about all the various offerings, Vassallo said. After all, she said, it is their tax dollars that support the libraries and its programs.
“People are just floored. They don’t necessarily have to pay for Netflix,” although users are not able to obtain many of the offerings from the various streaming services, she noted.
The library’s operating budget of $41.7 million this fiscal year rose slightly from $40.7 million in fiscal year 2018 and $39 million in fiscal year 2017.
This year, the library made a pilot project a permanent mainstay that eliminated fines for late materials in the children’s department.
“This has been just great,” Vassallo said. “We have definitely seen an increase” in the number of books for infants to five-years-olds, including picture books, board books and easy readers.
“Having to pay library fines can be a real barrier for some of our community members,” Vassallo said.
She recalled an incident in which a mother of several young children owed around $10 or $15 in fines. She noted that the fines could build up, especially for families with young children tend as they tend to check out multiple books each visit.
When that mother was told how much she owed, she told her children they would not be using the library anymore, Vassallo recalled.
While people are no longer charged late fees for children’s books, the rest of the collection still requires a 35-cents-a-day late fee.
Also new for children is Sensory Storytimes,which began in the Spring of 2019 for children who are on the Autism spectrum. Storytime is quieter, more structured and shorter than the regular storytime.
This year, the Marilyn J. Praisner Library in Burtonsville was refurbished.
In September, the brand new Wheaton and Community Recreation Center opened. The 92,000-square-foot building on Georgia Avenue includes a library, recreation center and Friends of the Library used bookstore.
“It’s just a great facility to bring those two buildings together. It’s a benefit for library users,” she said. Parents who drop their children off at the recreation center can use the library while they are waiting, she noted.
“They are very busy at Wheaton. They have been registering people right and left” for library cards, she said.
Altogether, during fiscal year 2019, there were 12,896 new borrowers throughout the library system.
According to the annual report, the library staff answered more than 1.3 million questions, in person, by phone, through the website, on social media and email.
The report highlighted an “unexpected and unusual occurrence” in which a customer sent back a book, “The Postman,” that had been borrowed for her almost 75 years ago. It was taken out in 1949.
She was not charged, since it was a children’s book.