Dallasites Are Staying Away from the Library in Record Numbers

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Funding-wise, the Dallas Public Library is starting to recover from the financial crisis. After four straight years of cuts, the system has gotten more money in each of the past two years. The $22.4 million allotted for next year is far from the $32.4 million peak six years ago, but it's progress.

The number of people who are actually visiting the libraries, on the other hand, is still dropping, from 5 million three years ago to just over three million this past year.

Some of the drop can be chalked up to the reduction in library hours to 40 hours per week for most branches. But that happened several years ago, and the downward trend continues.

Luckily, library director Mary Jo Giudice has an explanation: The people-counting devices are in the wrong place.

"I personally feel the numbers are low," she told Dallas City Council's Arts, Culture and Libraries Committee on Monday afternoon, saying that the people who attend gatherings and programs in rooms near the library entrance are often missed.

The numbers should be higher next year, she promised, once staff gets done moving the people counters to the front doors.

That would have been a good time for Giudice to point out that the usage of library materials -- including books, music, and other media accessed online -- inched upwards last year, if only slightly (she mentioned this later).

Still, it's not enough to explain why fewer people are showing up at the library, and it doesn't give any hints on how to reduce the trend.

The first step, at least, is obvious. The city needs to restore the library hours of five years ago. But that requires extra staff, which requires extra money, which the City Council has to agree to set aside.

So, maybe next year.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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