TUPELO – Public libraries across the region are experiencing record patronage this summer as residents opt for free entertainment in air-conditioned climates.
“It’s been a madhouse,” said Ann Cocker, librarian at the Corinth Library, which is the regional headquarters for the Northeast Regional Public Library system.
“I have been here 27 years, and this is the busiest summer we have ever had,” she said, citing a 28 percent increase in circulation numbers from May to June and a 16 percent increase from last year.
Children’s programs are packed, computers stay occupied and books fly off the shelves – not just in Corinth, but at all the libraries throughout Northeast Mississippi.
From Oxford to Corinth to Tupelo and everywhere in between, libraries have become the new hangout for young and old.
“It’s recreation, it’s education, it’s business, it’s history – all under one roof,” said Mark Carr, a Union County businessman who every week frequents the Lee County Library in Tupelo, the main branch of the Lee-Itawamba Public Library System.
Carr uses the free Internet, buys cheap books at the library’s discarded-book rack and networks with other patrons.
While Carr browsed books downstairs Wednesday, some five dozen children performed a dance recital for their parents on the second floor. They were participating in the library’s week-long summer camp, whose numbers also have been growing.
“It is unreal,” said Vicky Manning, who coordinates children’s activities at the Tupelo library. “I really believe that people are looking and searching for things for families to do that doesn’t cost anything.”
That’s why Mooreville resident Lorrie Heitger enrolled her children in the program for the second year in a row.
“It’s something fun for them, it’s free, and they get to meet other kids,” she said.
Double the fun
A normal day at the Tupelo library draws about 800 people. But on the days when the facility offers kids programs, attendance more than doubles, said Director Jan Willis.
“We have heavier use and more patron demand,” he said, “but it’s difficult to get additional funding to better meet these services.”
Cocker sang the same tune in Corinth: “There have been funding issues, too, so we’re trying to do more with less.”
In the past few decades, libraries have evolved from mere book warehouses to full-service facilities with CD and DVD rentals, Internet and WiFi access, reading programs and computer classes.
“A lot of people had no idea how to use e-mail, so we’ve also had several courses for adults to set up their own e-mail accounts, and those have been popular, said Dorothy Fitts, head librarian at the Lafayette County & Oxford Public Library.
Fitts said she started seeing her patron numbers rise about a year ago. Residents, she said, started canceling home Internet and magazine subscriptions to save money and now go to the library to meet those needs.
They’re also checking out movies, books and music there instead of buying those items at stores or online.
“Not only are people coming in droves, but they’re checking out in droves,” said Fitts, who said monthly patronage numbers have increased by 1,000 people since spring, and monthly circulation has increased by 1,000 items since one year ago.
The only age group not frequenting the library, Fitts said, are 30-somethings. So the Oxford library started carrying graphic novels – which are lengthy comic books – to entice them.
It’s a tactic the Tupelo library also uses, and apparently it works: On Wednesday, Antwon Hereford and his son, Kijana, chose children’s novels to get Kijana’s reading skills ready for fourth grade.
One of those novels was X-Men.
When asked if he liked superhero comic, Kijana simply said, “This one is for my dad.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also read Emily’s blog, The Government Grind, at NEMS360.com
Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal