Wake County residents might soon have an extra few hours to pick up their favorite book from the library.
Library staff hope to get additional funding to extend library hours as the Wake County Commission develops its budget for next year.
County staff is recommending that officials lengthen library hours to counteract dwindling visitor and circulation numbers.
Last year, about 8.7 million people passed through the doors of Wake County libraries, but Community Services Director Frank Cope said he expects that number to decrease to about 7.7 million for this year.
The number of books checked out has also decreased from about 11.9 million to about 11 million this year.
Cope said that this is the fourth year that the county has seen a decline. Overall, the county’s libraries remain some of the busiest in the state.
“We’re not panicked because we’re doing very well, but we are concerned with the trend,” Cope said.
Cope said reduced hours and a stagnant book budget have been major reasons for the change.
In 2010 regional libraries closed three hours earlier on Fridays, while community libraries closed an hour earlier Monday through Thursday.
“It turned out to have more of an impact than we thought,” Cope said.
Cope said a lot happens in an hour. The majority of people — 98 percent — checking out books are in the library less than an hour.
Cope said many working families find that by the time they eat dinner and get homework done, it’s already 7:30 p.m. With community branches closing at 8 p.m., a trip to the library often gets put off until the weekend.
By adding back those weeknight hours, plus a few on the weekends, he expects to gain about 418,000 more visitors annually. Additional staff will cost about $206,000 per year.
Since 2008, the county has slashed the book-buying budget by almost half, which limits the new titles the library can purchase. With the average library book checked out out eight times per year, it doesn’t take long for titles to become worn and battered.
Digital books aren’t as big of an issue as some might think.
E-books make up only about 3 percent of the overall circulation and cost $15 more for a license to cover a limited number of uses.
Cope said he isn’t asking for an increase in the book budget this year but he will do so next year.
New library priorities
County residents approved library bonds in 2003 and 2007 to build new facilities and renovate existing ones.
Construction of a new Northeast Regional branch is the only lingering project from the 2003 bond. Staff expects to finally begin construction on the branch next fiscal year, with the operating costs including in the fiscal year 2015 budget.
None of the major projects from the 2007 bond have been built.
Meanwhile, Rolesville mayor Frank Eagles is asking for an express library. Rolesville does not have a community branch. Eagles said they have a building and will pay for the utilities as long as the county can bring in some books and computers.