How big, exactly? In 1994, the library checked out 466,856 pieces of media to card-carrying members. For 2011, that number more than doubled: an astonishing 873,539 items were circulated in total. And make no mistake about it – this huge increase is no coincidence, and certainly no accident.
“What we did is we looked really closely at the borrowing patterns and the makeup of our overall collection,” said A. Isaac Pulver, the director of the Saratoga Springs Public Library. When Pulver joined the library in 2008, circulation numbers had plateaued for several years in the mid-600,000 range. But instead of seeing those numbers as an impenetrable ceiling, Pulver and his staff began to tweak the formula behind the library’s success.
“The very first thing we did was we lifted any kind of borrowing restrictions on children’s material,” said Pulver. “Also, after looking at the trends, we actually decided to get out of the magnetic media business altogether – no more VHS, no more cassette tapes – and instead we put our resources into things that people actually wanted.”
Instead, the library began to build a solid collection of DVDs and CDs – forms of media people were actually using in the new millennium.
“The fastest growing parts of our collection in terms of circulation and use are the movies, which is because there’s no place else left in Saratoga Springs where you can rent or borrow a movie,” said Pulver. “We also changed the way we collected. We used to only add a movie to the collection if it had award nominations. We’ve gotten away from that and moved more toward buying things that are in demand. It’s more of a give-the-people-what-they-want system,” he said.
It sounds simple – give the people what they want – but the results have been dramatic. As less desirable materials are removed from the shelves, in-demand books, movies and music become more visible and easier for patrons to find. In the four years that Pulver has been the library’s director, annual circulation has increased by 206,825. And while part of that success is due to the library’s collection and less restrictive borrowing policies, it’s also largely because of a major philosophical shift in the library’s operation model.
“Traditionally, libraries are a warehouse for materials. But we’ve kind of moved away from that model now. Today, it’s really more about creating experiences,” said Pulver. “To that end, we’re doing a lot more programing.”
Welcome to what may be the understatement of the year. Julie Moore, the community relations coordinator, is ready to announce over 200 programs open to the community for the spring season.
“In total, I’d say we have somewhere close to 800 programs we offer year-round,” said Moore. “We have programing for adults, children, teens, and we have a very extensive computer education component.”
The goal, said Moore, is simple. With courses for beginning and advanced computer users, parenting workshops, literacy programs, language and cultural programs, history seminars, film screenings, cartooning instruction, video game design labs and even improvisation acting classes, Moore always asks herself, “With so many different interests within the community, how can we address as many as possible in a way that’s not only fun, but educational as well?”
“We want to develop partnerships with the community,” Moore added. “We want to let people know that we’re here, and we’re not just books. I think this is more of a place for an experience.”
The library is also one of the few, if not only spaces within Saratoga Springs that allows nonprofit organizations to sign up to use a meeting space at absolutely no charge. Boy Scouts, knitting clubs, homeschool groups and more all call the Saratoga Springs Library their home base – nearly 400 organizations in total.
Community programs for teens, children and adults, a modern selection of desirable materials and transforming the library into a place where experiences are made are all key to the library’s success. Other programs and unique features, including the Book Bag shop, the Higher Grounds Caffé coffee shop, the historic Saratoga Room and a wonderful outreach program that delivers materials to homebound patrons also play a huge role in keeping the library relevant. But in the end, the Saratoga Springs Public Library is as successful as it is thanks to one key element:
“We’ve got a great staff,” said Pulver. “I think really, in addition to all of the great materials and programs we have to offer, the staff is probably the most important thing to making sure people continue to have a good experience with us.”
To learn more about the Saratoga Springs Public Library or to view some of the programs they offer, call (518) 584-7860, or visit www.sspl.org.