By JOSH MINER
PLATTSBURGH — The economy put the squeeze on wallets across the nation last year, and that may be one reason Plattsburgh Public Library reported a record year for circulation and computer use.
With an average 592 hours of computer usage per week and 159,036 books and DVDs distributed in 2009, the library could say it had a pretty good year.
According to a report released by Director Stanley Ransom, this translated to 54 books being circulated an hour — nearly one title a minute.
“People who have less money to spend turn to places where it costs less to borrow,” he said. “Here, it’s free.”
Through efforts by the Friends of the Library, the second floor of the building began a complete upgrade last year.
“The second floor was a very dismal place,” Ransom said, adding that the drab color reminded him of a battleship.
Painting the walls and carpeting the level, work crews from Altona Correctional Facility transformed the once useless space into what is now used as both a meeting place and an art exhibit.
Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) gave the library a grant to purchase 100 padded chairs for the auditorium — dubbed the Helen Wilcox Ianelli Gallery — creating an opportunity for local organizations to gather. Before the grant, the library had only 25 chairs.
After the floor was revamped, 207 meetings of non-profit groups took place in the auditorium last year.
Ransom said the central room on the second floor, however, has yet to be renovated.
The library also held a major quadricentennial celebration last year, marking 400 years since Samuel de Champlain arrived in the area. Nine events took place during the celebration. Speakers focused on subjects including the history of the Abenaki, Samuel de Champlain and folk lore from the area. The Library Board also set up an essay contest for local high-school students to explore the significance of Lake Champlain, with a $400 first prize.
Clerk Kelly Sexton is set to be the first person in the library’s history to be a local history reference librarian. The local history room has been open for 30 years but was run by volunteers with varying part-time schedules. Starting today, the library will have its own resident historian.
“There is so much information about this area,” Sexton said. “I feel like so many people don’t know.”
Another resource being used in increasing numbers is AncestryPlus. The tool helps individuals trace their family tree and explore where their ancestors came from. Last year, Sexton said, more than 14,000 people used the service.
“We have quite the collection of genealogy material. A lot of people really aren’t aware of what we have.”
In order to remedy this, Ransom said the library has been promoting their services more actively than in the past.
With the cooperation of City Chamberlain Richard Marks, the library’s quarterly newsletter, Plattsburgh Public Library HI-LIGHTS, is sent out with 10,000 city electric bills at no cost to the library.
Area businesses and New York state, awarded a total of $116,924 in grants to the library last year, allowing Sexton’s new staff position to be created and the library to stay open on Sundays during the school year.
“Without the city’s help, we could not be doing the things we are doing,” Ransom said.
Not only have the exhibits and events at the library drawn in extra people, but the availability of computer terminals has some patrons waiting for the doors to open first thing in the morning.
“We have a record number of people coming in just to use the computers,” Ransom said. “So many people in the county don’t have computers.”
While some feel computers and the Internet will eventually replace the reading of books, Sexton disagrees.
“With so many things beings available online, a lot of people have the mistaken idea that it will make libraries irrelevant. It’s simply not the case. The books are a fraction of what we do. Really, the public library is a community resource.”
With the growing number of patrons, Sexton said, the library must also grow.
“So far, we’re hanging on. But we really need an increase in funding and an increase in staff.”