Nearly 2 million items were checked out from Forsyth County libraries by more than 516,000 visitors during 2012. And the local library system’s Web site was used nearly 820,000 times.
Those figures represent increases over 2011, including a 30 percent jump in program attendance, with more than 29,000 participants last year.
The statistics were presented during the Forsyth County Library Board meeting Tuesday night in response to an inquiry from County Commissioner Todd Levent.
On behalf of residents in his District 3, Levent sought more information on the rationale behind funding and growing the library system in this age of technology.
“This question keeps coming up,” said Jon McDaniel, director of libraries.
Board member Mary Helen McGruder said Levent was quick to reply to the statistics.
“He was very impressed with the information and is grateful to have something of this caliber to be able to say, ‘Yes, we are relevant and it’s worthwhile to spend the money that we spend,’” McGruder said.
Also during its meeting, the board got a peek at the future during a demonstration of the automated materials handling system being installed in the new Post Road Library, which is in Levent’s district.
It will be the first branch in the system to feature the $170,000 machine, which sorts library materials into different bins.
Board members fed books, DVDs and other items through a slot on the machine and then watched as they traveled along a conveyor belt and into bins.
Anna Lyle, the library’s assistant director for support services, said the returns machine can also sort toys and personal books into an “exceptions” bin.
The switch to the automated service will cut staff in half, Lyle said. So when the Post Road branch opens this summer, it likely will have just five employees handling returns and shelving instead of the 10 or 11 it takes at the system’s other branches.
“It would be a labor-saving device,” she said. “The return on investment that this company and others have seen is that it reduces a lot of staff. Once we have this, we won’t need to physically touch the books until they’re actually going onto the shelves.”
During its meeting, the board also heard an update on construction of the Post Road branch, at Post and Kelly Mill roads in west Forsyth, as well as new rules being implemented in all branches.
Steve Kight, the library’s assistant director for public services, said the system began allowing patrons this week to pay their fees online. In less than two days, that has amounted to more than $180 in fees collected.
Board member Kristin Morrissey noted that the convenience of online paying may reduce the number of library customers sent to collections.
Kight also said hold limits are being increased from 25 to 50 items and the computer time limits are being increased from one to four hours.
“This was sort of frustrating for students who really want more time and have to go to the desk and have to get time extended,” Kight said of the computer time
“We’ve been looking at the data and … there was always a computer open, so we don’t anticipate this would really change anything. It will just make it convenient for patrons who use the computers for a long period of time.”