Economy pushes patrons to their Kitsap Regional Libraries

POULSBO — Kitsap Regional Library has cut hours and spending but the cuts haven’t scratched attendance.

The number of visitors to the Poulsbo branch has skyrocketed over the last three years, from about 120,000 in 2007 to more than 185,000 in 2009, Branch Manager Sharon Lee said. In January, 17,000 visitors were recorded by the library’s automated door counters.

“We’re a thriving place,” Lee said.

Lee believes the poor economy is driving more people through the library’s doors to take advantage of free resources and self-help information.

Public computer access is one draw, as some people have canceled internet services at home to save money.

Patrons are frequenting the do-it-yourself section. Lee said titles on finding jobs or switching careers have been popular. So have books on home repairs, cooking and other skills that could save people money.

“You’d almost call them old fashioned skills,” Lee said. “Raising goats. Raising chickens. Crock Pot cookery.”

As patrons were watching their home budgets, the library system was slashing its own.

The Poulsbo branch has cut eight hours from its schedule since January 2008. The branch reduced its staff hours by 21 in 2009 but has not laid off employees.

Meanwhile, staff hours and spending were reduced systemwide. Kitsap Regional Library cut its budget by 7.6 percent in 2009.

The 2010 library budget approved in January increased spending by 1.5 percent and lifted a wage freeze for employees. The library system is mulling a levy lid-lift measure for the November general election.

Most branches in the system have seen a rise in visitors and circulation. Attendance was up 19 percent in the Little Boston library last month compared to January 2009. At the Kingston library, attendance was level but circulation was up slightly. The downtown Bremerton branch posted the largest jump in visitors, up 24 percent compared to January 2009.

Kitsap Regional Library Director Jill Jean said the trend is revealing.

“It’s up all over the system,” Jean said. “I think it speaks to the fact that people need our library in the down economy more than ever.”

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