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Technology Boosts Library Usage in Kentucky

Chad Kainz

Libraries are surging across Kentucky thanks, in large part, to technology.

Kentucky residents checked out more than 30.7 million items in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, according to a news release last week from the state Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

That is 2 percent more items checked out than last year, according to the release.

The number of residents with library cards is also climbing, according to the release. Nearly 60 percent of the state's population now have one.

And for the first time, the number of e-books checked out from public libraries in the state surpassed the number of items checked out from bookmobiles, according to the release.

Wayne Onkst,  state librarian and commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, said e-books are attractive "for a number of different reasons."

"It's a convenience, on a small device you can have a large number of books that are easy to access, they're easy to carry, easy to transport and I think that devices are just a fun way to read for a lot of people," he said.

And tech services, in general, offered by libraries are fueling the resurgence.

"The range of services we are able to offer through technology provides the library many different ways to serve than we have ever been able to serve in the past," Onkst said.

He added the popularity of libraries will likely accelerate as more services and materials become available "remotely."

In Louisville, nearly 4 million items were checked out in the last 12 months, according to information provided by the Louisville Free Public Library.

That is a 3.6 percent increase from the previous 12 month period, said Paul Burns, spokesman for the library.

Residents in Louisville checked out 26 percent more e-books in the most recent 12 month cycle than the previous 12 months, he added.

And e-books make up just 12 percent of Louisville's library collection.

More than 4,800 computers are available to residents at Kentucky libraries, according to the release.

In Metcalfe County, in south central Kentucky, residents often drive nearly 20 miles to the library just to log on to the Internet, according to the cabinet's news release.

"E-books and Wi-Fi are bringing people back to the library," said Rhonda Glass, director of Metcalfe County Library, in a statement.

Some numbers from the cabinet's news release:

  • 19,283,936 people visited a library building
  • 1,426,468 people attended a children’s program sponsored by the library
  • more than 25,000 groups held meetings in a public library meeting room
  • 78,242 items were borrowed from libraries across the world through interlibrary loan for Kentuckians
  • 1,690,528 items circulated to shut-ins, homebound Kentuckians, schools and others unable to visit a library location by the state’s bookmobile fleet, which is the nation’s largest.
Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.