Survey: N.H. Public Libraries Tops In Staffing, Visitors, Programs

May 1, 2015


If you’re passionate about public libraries, there’s no better place to be than in the Granite State.

That’s according to the most recent Public Libraries Survey, conducted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The survey found New Hampshire was tops in library staffing and library visits per capita.  The state also ranked first in the number of programs offered per 1,000 people.

Michael York is New Hampshire’s state librarian.

He joined Morning Edition to talk about the survey’s results.

Some high marks for libraries in New Hampshire. What’s your takeaway from these rankings?

It’s something that we’ve known all along; New Hampshire does love its libraries. There are 234 public libraries in New Hampshire, one in every single community. Public libraries have to be free and open to the public, and when we say free, we don’t mean that it doesn’t cost money. It means that everyone is free to go in without paying money; they have paid for it already through their taxes.

The survey found New Hampshire was also near the top in library spending per capita. How much of a connection do you see between that investment and high visitation?

I think there’s a direct correlation with that because obviously the citizens are looking for services and the services do not come free. They have to be paid for. Programming, the materials the library owns and the things that they purchase, and the things that they subscribe to. I think there is a direct correlation between the funds that are spent on these things.

The e-book revolution has more and more people doing their reading on personal devices and tablets. How are libraries in New Hampshire adapting to keep up?

Almost 10 years ago now, we formed in New Hampshire a consortium. We started off with about 20 libraries, the larger libraries in the state. We now have over 200 libraries that are members of the New Hampshire Downloadable Book Consortium. This allowed the libraries to share their resources and to purchase the materials that were needed. Now, there is a website and any registered borrowers from those libraries can go on. They use their barcode that’s on the back of their library card and they check materials out to their Kindle or Nook or whatever device they have that’s supported by the company.

The survey found over the past decade that the amount of print materials at libraries has been decreasing, while access to e-books has increased dramatically.

Given that trend, in 10 or 20 years, are we going to see a different kind of public library than we may be used to?

You’re correct. We are moving into an era when there will be fewer books on the shelves, but they’re not going away immediately. There are still lots of people who like to read books in paper format and I don’t see that changing.

You don’t see a room full of just a few kiosks in the future where people go and download something and walk out?

I see that, but what I can’t see is when that’s actually going to happen. There will be a tipping point, as there is with most things. I think the tipping point is going to come when more and more people feel comfortable using the technology and that’s happening because the technology is so much easier to use than it was.

Also I think the point needs to be made that libraries here – and this is not lost in the survey – are a community meeting place. There are so many other activities. A library is much more than just reading material. There are children’s activities; there are all sorts of community activities and forums that take place. That is alive and well here in New Hampshire, as well.

Indeed. There’s a relatively new library in Gilford, there’s a new library in Hudson. There are lots of libraries. They’re not going away and as a matter of fact people recognize they are wonderful community centers. And what’s happening is less space is being devoted to the collection and more space is being devoted to meeting space.