Public attendance at Metuchen Library events has doubled in five years

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METUCHEN — In 2013, some 336 library programs were offered with an attendance of 5,400 people.

In 2017, some 702 programs and classes were offered at the library with 10,650 people coming to the programs.

“[The attendance] basically has doubled in five years,” said John Arthur, library director for the Metuchen Public Library, adding library officials are most proud of the increased attendance.

Arthur presented the library’s 2017 annual report at the Borough Council meeting on May 21.

“Some of the numbers are staggering if you think about the size of Metuchen,” he said. “The total circulation items checked out for years have been above 100,000 per year. The number of people who have visited the library have hovered around 120,000 to 130,000 people per year.”

Arthur said some of the things that have increased drastically have been public computer use.

“From 2013-17, the use has gone up four times from 7,000 to 24,000 uses,” he said. “Part of that to be honest is better record keeping … but it has gone up [since then].”

Arthur said as part of the report he looked at other towns in the state with similar populations.

“I looked in the 13,000 to 17,000 as a range and found 10 towns,” he said.

Arthur said he found the average visits to the library are 91,000 for the other libraries; Metuchen’s average visits are 110,000.

The Metuchen Library currently has 6,995 cardholders.

The average number of checked out items is 92,000 for the other libraries; Metuchen’s checked out items is 122,000

The average program attendance at the other libraries is 7,695; Metuchen’s is 10,600.

“All the averages for Metuchen were significantly above the average to comparable towns,” Arthur said. “I tried to pick different areas of the state to give a somewhat decent comparison.”

Goals reached in 2017

For the first time since 2014, the library had been able to open on Sundays from 1-5 p.m. from Labor Day to Memorial Day. The Sunday hours began in September of 2017.

Arthur said the library was awarded a $32,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development for English as a Second Language classes.

“That was one of the largest reasons why we had an increase in programming attendance,” he said. “We went from one class per week to five classes per week from September to June.”

Challenges

Arthur said the library budget is still behind from where it was in 2009.

“The library’s budget [in 2009] was $792,618, which was significantly higher than the low [budget] of $698,943 in 2014,” he said. “The budget for 2018 decreased slightly to $766,583.”

Arthur said if library officials adjust the 2009 budget for inflation using the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator, the 2009 budget amount of $792,618 would be worth $936,811 as of March 2018.

“We are still significantly behind, but I do believe we will catch up [with the] assessed values in town and obviously there is a lot of expansion, I think that number will go up every year,” he said.

Goals in 2018

Arthur said library officials will continue to work on bringing in new programs.

“We will seek donations and continue to grow our collections especially our digital collections,” Arthur said, adding when looking at circulation numbers, it is still 90 percent physical, but digital is increasing every year.

Arthur said the digital archive database is the most popular at the library. He said the library received a $6,000 grant from Middlesex County to expand the database.

Library officials are also working with an architect firm on a basement renovation plan.

“Sometimes water seeps up through the floor when there is a large rainfall,” Arthur said. “The main part of the building was constructed in 1936 and 1937 so parts of that building haven’t had work on it since then.”

Arthur said library officials will apply for funds from the Library Construction Bond Act passed in November 2017 when funds become available later this year. It allocates $125 million for library construction throughout the state, he said.

“[The act] was passed by [the state] Assembly and Senate,” he said.

Arthur said then the Library Construction Bond Act was on the election ballot as a question in November 2017.

“It is a one-to-one matching grant opportunity,” Arthur said. “When funds are available, we can renovate essentially on a 50 percent discount.”

Arthur said not only can the grant funds go towards a basement renovation, funds could go towards quiet study rooms.

“Almost every day people ask for quiet study rooms,” he said. “It’s just a trend with online colleges and online jobs with people working at home a couple of days a week. They need a quiet space by themselves where they can shut the door. I kind of envision the center of the main floor with a couple of cut out quiet study rooms. This is a long-term goal and with the Library Construction Bond Act, we may try to achieve it quickly at a severely discounted rate.”

Arthur said the library is supported by the borough, Friends of the Metuchen Library, and volunteers.

“The amount of volunteers that this town has is staggering. There may be 100 people who volunteer their time at the library over the course of the year,” he said. “This is not true in most libraries from shelving books, hosting programs and gardening. … They do so much and it is really a testament of the type of town that Metuchen is and I think that’s what makes this community special.”

Contact Kathy Chang at [email protected].