The library’s future in a digital world

(Photo by Will Dendis)

A little more than a year and a half ago, the voters of Saugerties showed their support of the community library by voting 2-1 for a $6.9 million bond to renovate and enlarge the existing space, essentially tripling the Saugerties Public Library in size.

On Tuesday, Sept. 6, voters in Saugerties will get another chance to show what they think about their library when they vote on the proposed 2013 library budget. It calls for a tax levy of $521,963.75 — a 1.5 percent increase ($7,713 ) over the current one. The total budget is $599,434, a 2.4 percent increase over this year’s.

If the budget is approved, property owners will pay 27.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, an increase of .41 cents per $1,000.


The largest expense for the library after salaries ($306,006) is operating expenses, which are projected to increase from $62,754 in the current budget to $91,513 in 2013. Under the umbrella of operating costs are utilities, telephone, insurance, maintenance, service/supplies, lawn and grounds, snow removal, elevator maintenance contract, geothermal system maintenance contract, custodial services and equipment depreciation.

So while every aspect of operations is up for discussion, it seems as good a time as any to sit down with library director Sukrit Goswami. The subject? The future of libraries in an increasingly digital world.

As electronic media displaces traditional forms, and library patrons can download what they want directly from a central library website in the comfort of their homes, without ever setting foot inside the building, is it less necessary to invest in a brick and mortar building in every town? And if more people have no use for a local library, will it have to slash its budget and no longer be able to provide the services that are in the public interest?

Are the days of the library as a community meeting place numbered?

How does circulation of electronic media compare with circulation of physical materials?

In 2011, the library’s total circulation of all physical materials (books, CDs, DVDs, etc.) for the year was 129,315 items (10,776 items per month). For downloaded audio books and ebooks in 2011, it was 1,416 downloads (118 per month).

For 2012 so far, we have numbers for the first seven months, through July 31. We circulated 81,727 actual physical items (11,675 month), and downloaded 1,125 (160 per month). So circulation of both is up, but the numbers still greatly favor the actual physical items.

Do you think digital downloads will undermine the library’s usefulness to the community?

No, it’s not undermining us, it’s giving people one more option. It might even be helping people to use the library.

Libraries are not ever going away. I can see why people are asking this question, but people still read books, and people will always read books. I’m a very tech-savvy person, but honestly, I still love to have a book in my hand. I won’t say there isn’t a time I’m not reading on my iPad or my e-reader, and I listen to books on CD, but those are just providing one extra means of access for people. [Downloading e-materials] also brings teenagers into reading. Teenagers who would not check out the book, but will read it on their iPad.

How many people in Saugerties use the library?

Our usage is mind-boggling. We have a laser “people counter” now at the door that shows how many people are using our library, and just in the month of July we had 9,546 people enter the building. [The laser counter has only been in effect a few months, so annual numbers are yet to be determined.]

New patrons are still coming in for library cards. We issued 85 new cards in July, and so far in 2012 we have issued 491 cards. Since we have opened the new building, we’ve had 1,885 new patrons getting library cards. And we answer a lot of reference questions, both from people who call and from the ones that stop at the desk. We try to keep track of how many questions we’ve answered, and we’ve had 9,288 questions in 2012 so far, in the last seven months.