County libraries more than place to get a good book

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Director gives Rotarians an update

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Levy County's public library director told the Chiefland Rotary Club that they should judge their libraries the way an investor would judge a business — by the return on the investment.
And when it comes to Levy County's five branches that return is a whopping $28 for every taxpayer dollar invested in the system. "I want you to know what my return on investment is," said Brasher.
She said it is measured in the value of a patron checking out a movie at the library instead of  using Netflix, although she was quick to say the library's store of movies is not able to compete with Netflix.  "For those of you with young children there's a lot of Disney classics that are not available any more and we have them," Brasher said.  
She also measures the value in downloading an ebook instead of having to buy one. Ebook readers can check a book out — including recent releases — for three weeks through the Alachua County Library System by obtaining a library card at the Archer branch.  The card is available free to Levy County residents and allows them to download current books from the Overdrive program.
"In measuring ROI it's how much you would spend on gas, time and everything to go get that movie or book in Gainesville."
Brasher said the library system receives $220,000 in funding from Levy County that is used to pay personnel, many of whom are part time and have no benefits. "We have two full time people on staff. The rest are part time," she said.
"According tot he state we are underfunded by half of what we should get," she said. "But I am blessed with the best staff in the world."
That staff answered over 3,000 reference questions and checked out over 100,000 items in the past year, including books, DVD's, audio books and more.  "Audio books are big. People listen to them while they are driving back and forth to work,"
The libraries logged 24,000 hours of time on its computers in the past year and Brasher has had the wireless service boosted at branches because the staff has discovered people sitting outside the libraries logging onto the Internet and getting their email.
"If you see cars outside the library at night, they're using the wi fi," she said. While the library counts the number of users — its 35,000 individual uses ? on its system, they do not track what users are doing. "We do not track where they go," she said.  And the staff provided help for 639 patrons on the 30 computers in the system. The library also has access to ancestry.com, one of the largest website's for doing genealogical research.
And for the motorheads who do their own vehicle repairs, Brasher said the library has access to the Chilton auto repair books going back several decades. "You can download the information on how to do the repairs," she said as the all male group in attendance audibly noted they were impressed.
Because there are only 30 computers available, usage time is limited to 30 minutes per individual, but Brasher said if someone would lose their work by having to log off the staff will grant them time to finish and save their work.
In addition, Brasher said the library provides programs for children and adults that were attended by 8,000 individuals in the past year.
The library system also has the Learning Express Library system on its computers that offers lessons, exercises and practice tests for every level of school including a full battery of practice tests for the FCAT taken by students.
One big item that is pushing up the return on investment is the county's membership in the PAL Co-op. The letters stand for Putnam, Alachua and Levy counties.
"Because os a quirk in state law where they say we want you to be part of a cooperative and we'll give you money," she said. "What a wonderful boon."
Since forming the co-op last year the county has received $50,000 worth of library materials. The county system's new materials budget is $2,600. "That works out to $43 per library per month," Brasher said.
"I thought I had died and gone to heaven," Brasher said of the PAL co-op money.