HANCOCK COUNTY — There was a time when checking out an audio book from a library meant rifling through a stack of CDs or cassettes.
These days, all it takes is a few clicks for Hancock County Public Library patrons to check out audio books, e-books, streaming music, movies and TV shows.
And check them out, they have — in the past six years, the library has seen its electronic circulation skyrocket, from about 10,000 check-outs in 2010 to more than 197,000 last year, according to the library’s 2015 annual report.
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Print is still king among patrons, who checked out 465,800 items last year; but that number has remained steady since 2010 with only gradual gains, while digital checkouts show a steep upward trend.
Library director Dave Gray said it’s difficult to guess when electronic checkouts will surpass print, but he believes that day is coming. He said for patrons, the decision often comes down to whether a print version or an electronic version of the title they’re seeking is available first.
E-books, electronic versions of books that can be read on devices like Kindles, Nooks, iPads or smartphones, break library records constantly, Gray said. In December 2015, library patrons checked out 8,000 e-books or audio books through the library’s online resources. Though the library often sees numbers reach 8,000 e-book checkouts in its busier summer months, that number is a thousand more than December 2014, Gray said.
The library uses a handful of programs that host online materials for checkout, as well as its own app for Android, iOS and Kindle. The library’s mobile app debuted in 2014, and its usage has more than doubled since then, records show.
Media options available online for children as well as adults drive traffic to the library’s website, where patrons can check out electronic materials without ever setting foot in the building, said senior children’s library assistant Bambi Pea.
Youngsters can visit the e-reading room to see page-by-page samples of kids books available for borrowing and reserve their titles online, Pea said.
The Tumblebooks program, also available online, reads children’s books aloud, highlighting the words so kids can follow along.
Despite the fact that patrons are checking out electronic media more than ever before, that doesn’t mean they aren’t going for books and magazines, too, library officials said. Print circulation has showed a slow but steady increase in the last six years; going from about 442,800 checkouts in 2010 to about 465,800 checkouts last year — a 5 percent increase.
Patrons have shifted from seeking physical copies of CDs, DVDs and audio books to choosing electronic files of the same titles, Gray said. Circulation of these non-print items (CDs, DVDs, video games, etc.) saw a decrease from 2014 to 2015, declining by about 50,000 checkouts.
The library has worked hard to respond to patrons’ demand for more electronic files and apps compatible with their devices, Gray said.
The library provides touch-screen kiosks where patrons can reserve electronic items and download them on their devices at home later, Gray said. In addition, patrons can book a librarian for up to an hour to explain how the library’s electronic check out apps work with their device.
Area schools’ digital initiatives have equipped more students than ever before with a means to access electronic materials, which librarians suspect could be impacting their traffic. This year, Greenfield-Central High School students, who attend class just down the road from the library, were given MacBooks to use, Gray cited as one example.
James Pickett of Brownsburg often comes to the library to use the Internet for his job in sales. On a recent afternoon, he stopped by to use one of the library’s tablet computers and several different apps for his job.
He said the library’s Internet speeds and policies make working there convenient and user-friendly.
The availability of electronic media is most beneficial for those who already have Internet access and a device on which to view items they’re interested in, but the library also has a solution for those who don’t have their own tablet or smartphone, Gray said.
The library currently has four iPad Minis it lends out for two weeks at a time, but thanks to a $5,000 grant from an anonymous donor, it is getting ready to add 12 more — six of those at the Sugar Creek location, Gray said.
The challenge for the library is to spend its funds efficiently as possible and meet the demands of the public for media in multiple formats, he said.
Joy Summers, a reference librarian who also is a selector for fiction books, e-books and audio books, said she gets a lot more requests for e-books than print editions, and she has asked the library administration to fund accordingly.
The Hancock County Public Library offers a “book a librarian” program that allows patrons to schedule an hour with a librarian who can help them learn how to use the library’s electronic resources on tablets, computers or smartphones. To book an appointment, call 317-462-5141, ext. 240.