E-books soar, traditional books sag in annual library statistics
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E-books soar, traditional books sag in annual library statistics

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The humble book, often dismissed in the digital age, still draws Stanley Michael to the Rapid City Public Library downtown.

"I read a book here every day," Michael, 55, of Rapid City, said Wednesday as he sat at a library desk and flipped the pages of his latest. "I'm diabetic, so I want to get out of the house. I come here so I have something to keep me busy."

Statistically, however, he is among a dwindling number of people who prefer the paper page to the electronic.

Statistics provided by Sean B. Minkel, assistant director of Rapid City Public Libraries, show that the circulation of traditional books, audiobooks, magazines and DVDs was down 14.8 percent in 2014, compared with the circulation in 2013.

By contrast, the library system's circulation of electronic books (known as e-books) and other digital products rose by 34.3 percent in 2014.

Such numbers don't surprise Lucy Burns, a newcomer to Rapid City but a longtime library user.

Her library practices have changed considerably. "I use the library more now for information services," she said Thursday, "and come in for books less."

The drop in the circulation of traditional books and the rise in patrons' use of the library for electronic materials is a statewide trend.

Statistics provided by Shawn Behrends, data coordinator for the South Dakota State Library, show that in 2014, libraries in the state (excluding Rapid City libraries) showed a decrease in circulation of traditional books of about 4.5 percent compared with 2013. Conversely, the downloading of e-books and other digital products rose by more than 20 percent in 2014.

Public libraries in South Dakota reported lower circulation overall and fewer visits for 2014, according to results from the annual statewide survey.

Circulation dropped 17.5 percent from the prior year, but most of the decline resulted from a correction in 2014 to over-reporting at the Rapid City Public Library in previous years, according to State Librarian Daria Bossman.

She said removing Rapid City from the equation put the percent of the circulation drop in the low single digits.

“So it’s still down, but not so dramatically, and this is to be expected because of the tremendous movement in many of our libraries, most especially within the larger ones toward e-books, e-magazines and other downloadables,” Bossman said.

In turn, individual visits were down 2.7 percent statewide.

“This is naturally a national trend especially with more libraries offering downloadable services,” Bossman said. “The logic is that patrons no longer need to go to a library to pick up a book to read, and more people are relying on the Internet for basic informational needs.”

She said one of the big stories for 2014 was the 11 percent rise in local library programming. She said nearly 272,000 people attended last year. During the past 10 years, local programming climbed about 75 percent, according to Bossman.

Statewide, the use of library computers rose 9 percent in 2014, but Rapid City bucked that trend, Minkel said, with a nearly 19 percent drop in computer usage. He attributed the decrease to the practice of patrons to come to the library and use their own electronic devices.

Benjamin Mesteth II, 23, of Rapid City, is of the generation that would be expected to use the library for its digital rather than traditional offerings. But Mesteth said he does not use the library's computer, and he is happy turning pages the old-fashioned way.

"I like reading books," he said Thursday, adding that he favors nonfiction, "some history, mostly science.

"I read a lot of stuff about Albert Einstein."

Andrea J. Cook, Scott Feldman and Jim Stasiowski, members of the Journal staff, contributed to this story.

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