Library visitor numbers down

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Waitaki District Libraries manager Philip van Zijl believes a small drop in the number of people visiting libraries in the district is a result of an increase in online access.
According to statistics presented to the Waitaki District Council’s community services committee at its meeting last Wednesday, 92,001 visitors passed through the doors at libraries in Oamaru, Hampden, Kurow, Otematata and Palmerston in the year to January 2016, compared with 106,476 in the year to January 2015.
Of those, 86,471 visited the Oamaru Public Library in the year to this January, compared with 90,738 the year before.
Mr van Zijl said the drop was not unique to Waitaki.
“The trend with libraries, both nationally and internationally, is a drop in numbers. But the interesting phenomena would be in the many libraries that have been refurbished, or in some cases are built new, visitor numbers have shot up.”He said libraries were being built or refurbished with a digital focus.
The drop in numbers at Oamaru’s 40-year-old library, which he said “can’t be expected to operate in the 21st-century environment”, was not a concern, because those who did not physically visit the library were doing so online.
“It’s a relatively small drop. The focus and the future of libraries have completely changed from the traditional way and are a lot more digital-focused,” he said.
“To address that, we created a web page about five years ago and have now combined that with Culture Waitaki. We see the electronic access to the library as part of our library service.”Culture Waitaki is the main portal for information on Waitaki District Libraries, the Forrester Gallery, North Otago Museum, Waitaki District Archive and the Oamaru Opera House.
It features an online catalogue, and between November 2015 and the end of February, the catalogue had more than 5000 visits. From April 2015 to the end of February 2016, there were about 11,000 visits.
Mr van Zijl said 33.5% of those visitors were aged 25 to 34, while 27.5% were between 18 and 24. That was followed by 35-44 (15.5%), 45-54 (12.5%), 55-64 (5.5%) and 65-plus (5.5%).
Staff were being trained to handle digital inquiries, such as Wi-Fi problems, and to give people a place to print documents, as many did not have personal printers due to the rise of tablets and smartphones.
Mr van Zijl said staff aimed to liaise more with Oamaru’s large Pasifika community, which he described as “traditional visitors”.
“We have started to adjust our services. “We’ve responded to that by adjusting our service focus and staff skill development,” he said.
Waitaki District Libraries is conducting an online and in-house survey on library technology, and will use the results to assess future library services.