Booked solid: Cincinnati and Hamilton County's library system is the second-busiest in the country

Programming innovation, user support get credit

CINCINNATI -- This year's annual report by the national Public Library Data Service showed that patrons of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County checked out more than 21.2 million items last year -- making it one of the nation's busiest libraries, second only to the New York Public Library.

The Public Library, which does its own benchmarking measurements, has seen a steady increase in circulation and usage over the last decade. In 2010, the library ranked 11th busiest in the nation.

Organizers credit an increased focus on customer service with this year's marked jump.

"Every day, the Library works to keep pace with the high demand for library services from Hamilton County residents," said library director Kimber Fender. "We have worked hard to balance demand for books, movies and music with the growing demand for eBooks, eAudiobooks, streaming music and video, our fastest growing area of use for the past few years."

In addition to being the second-busiest, the Library is among the most cost-effective libraries in the United States. A report from the Ohio Library Council comparing the services and cost-effectiveness of libraries across the country shows residents of Hamilton County get back $6.73 for every $1 they invest in the Public Library -- which is $1 more return on investment than the average of other libraries in Ohio.

The state as a whole is first among libraries in the country in cost-effectiveness.

With libraries all over the country experiencing threats to stability, Fender said these rankings reflect how much our local libraries are valued in the community.

"Our cardholders are historically heavy users of the library and that's a sign to us that they recognize and respond to our commitment to giving them the materials and services they want, when they want it," Fender said. "We also know that having a branch library in 40 locations throughout the county strengthens that bond. Those communities place great value on having a branch in their neighborhood."

The Public Library has made several moves toward increased customer service in recent years, with perhaps the largest being a renewed commitment to current building maintenance. That could entail anything from installing new roofs and HVAC equipment to providing new desktop computer stations -- which the library recently did at its Walnut Hills branch.

On the programming side, the Public Library expanded its Summer Adventure program this year and saw a 120 percent increase in participation as a result. The library has also implemented several workforce development programs, introducing partnership with Ohio Means Jobs and the Southwest Ohio Region Workforce Investment Board.

In addition, the Public Library will soon unveil a new author series for 2018.

"We are always trying to find innovative ways to keep pace with the needs our cardholders, even though that's a difficult task when funding is flat," said Fender. "We have done all this without any increase in funding since 2000, while our circulation has increased 60 percent. The last time we had to ask residents to support us through a levy, the issue was approved by more than 80 percent of Hamilton County voters. That's a clear sign of support of the library's mission."

In recent years, the library has also introduced:

  • Ask a Librarian, which allows cardholders to add their name automatically to a holds list for new print, large print, eBooks and eAudiobooks.
  • Hot Tickets, which means can reserve new-release DVDs in their favorite genre with box office sales over $10 million
  • Book Hookup, which sends three personalized reading recommendations to cardholders based on their reading interests.
  • CD of the Month Club, which sends personal music recommendations once a month
  • Curbside Service, which allows cardholders can pick up materials without having to leave their vehicles

The Library received an Innovator of the Year award in the Collections category at the Urban Libraries Council Annual Forum in October 2016 for its collection-based convenience services. More recently, it was the recipient of the 2017 Library Innovation Award from the Ohio Library Council.

"In today's highly competitive world, cardholders expect customer service to include personalized, convenience-based interactions," said Fender. "In other words, they want to get the items they want to get when they want them, without hassle. We recognized this trend and are making it a priority to offer more convenience-based services to our cardholders."

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