Chesterton Tribune

Library mulls digital media to promote programs

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Westchester Public Library is testing the digital waters when it comes to promoting its services and programs.

Meeting Thursday, Library Board members learned information technician Mike Acsbok and staff are testing 23-inch, flat-screen monitors outfitted with computer software that can be used in various WPL departments to let patrons know about upcoming events and ongoing offerings.

When not in use, said Acsbok, screens on the public-access computers also could be programmed to display the messages, which could be customized for individual departments or for general use.

Library Board president Drew Rhed voiced a preference for the less-intrusive, smaller screens. Member Abbe Trent said she doesn’t want the buildings to look like a sports bar.

Director Phil Baugher explained some libraries are installing large, color digital signs outdoors to reach their target audience. He said WPL could do the same, the most visible spot being on the brick retaining wall of the Library Service Center at Calumet Road and Indiana Avenue, but vandalism and town zoning codes could be a problem.

The board briefly discussed but didn’t pursue advertising on the new digital Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce sign adjacent to Indiana 49 south of Porter Avenue. Despite having 30,000 vehicles per day pass the sign, Baugher said many of the motorists are not WPL’s primary audience of Westchester Township residents.

Although more and more libraries are embracing digital-sign technology, Baugher added, he’s not aware of studies having been done to track a correlation between electronic messaging and increased patronage.

He reported for the month of May circulation at WPL’s Thomas and Hageman libraries was down and year-to-date shows just under a 1 percent increase.

Board member Michele Corazzo asked if it’s valuable to track statistics for lesser-circulated materials. Baugher said all statistics are important and used by those at WPL who purchase materials to know where the demand is. With periodicals down 19.91 percent at Thomas last month, he continued, that demonstrates more patrons are using e-readers and WPL is ordering more pre-loaded e-readers to circulate.

Baugher noted libraries are walking against a headwind considering all the alternatives people have for information and entertainment today. “That’s not to say libraries will be obsolete in 10 years, but things are changing.”

It was announced the expansion and modernization of first-floor Thomas restrooms to make them handicapped accessible are completed, and bids are being solicited to replace the fixtures and tile in the second-floor Thomas restrooms.

Last month Baugher recommended the Library Board consider a small expansion of Hageman Library in Porter that would include new handicapped-accessible restrooms, additional storage and a new meeting/programming room; the current meeting room could be used for public-access computers.

WPL has over $4 million in its Library Improvement Reserve Fund, more than sufficient to pay for the Hageman upgrade without a bond issue or increase in taxes although under new laws the Porter County Council likely would have to approve the project.

Baugher reported WPL received a total spring tax draw of $1,354,858 with $7 million now in all funds. Preparation of the 2013 budget has begun and the director preliminarily included a 2 percent pay increase for staff, a new library telephone system and tentatively a Hageman restroom remodel.

Baugher said while some may think WPL has too much money, the long-term goal is to expand Thomas Library as well as provide a cushion against future property-tax downturns so services could continue. After weathering the devastating 2001 Bethlehem Steel bankruptcy, “I look at the economy today and it scares me to death.”

There are still four, 4-foot by 4-foot public plots available for planting at Hageman’s new community garden. Patrons are asked to sign an application/agreement for use of the raised beds.

The Friends of the Library group maintains carts at Thomas Library with free books for patrons to keep. During May approximately 1,200 books were distributed.

Tonight in downtown Chesterton’s Thomas Park, WPL sponsors a free concert by the Valparaiso University/Community Band at 7 p.m. followed by the film “The Smurfs” at dusk. June 22 Patti Shaffner and Friends will present jazz music preceding the movie “Zookeeper". Both films are rated PG. The Friday night concerts/movies continue through Aug. 10.

 

Posted 6/15/2018