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Data and community feedback help tell Bellingham Public Library story

library patrons browsing bookshelfBy Pamela Nyberg Kiesner, Bellingham Public Library Director

When it comes to measures of success, the Bellingham Public Library stacks up exceptionally well when compared to libraries across the state. The data confirms that Bellinghamsters love their library, use it extensively and receive great value for their public dollars.

I serve as the Chair of the Library Council of Washington, an organization dedicated to promoting access to library services throughout the state. In this role I am privileged to see libraries big and small, in cities and rural areas, providing important services to their diverse populations. People in Washington value the role of libraries in their communities, and this is particularly true in Bellingham.

According to a recently published report, Bellingham Public Library ranks among the most-used of the 62 public libraries in Washington State. The 2014 Washington Public Library Statistical Report, published by the Office of the Secretary of State/Washington State Library in September 2015, provides extensive comparative statistics, including the examples below.

Top 10 in attendance: Welcoming almost 831,000 patrons in 2014, we are in the top 10 in the state for total number of visitors per capita. In our population group and among all larger cities, only Seattle and Richland had slightly more visitors per capita.

Circulation per capita (19.71): We have the highest materials circulation per capita in our population group (25,001 – 100,000), as well as the highest per capita circulation in all larger population groups as well, including Seattle, King County, Spokane and Tacoma.

Turnover rate (7.13): We have the second highest “turnover rate” in the state. Turnover is total materials circulation divided by the total library collection – this measures the activity of the library’s collection. It indicates the average number of times each piece of the collection circulates during the year, and shows that our materials are getting a lot of use.

Our 2014 statistics

Here are a few key statistics upon which the state’s comparisons were based:

Visits: We logged 830,909 in-person visits to our three locations, along with 612,192 visits to our website.

Circulation: We checked out more than 1.6 million items in 2014, including 536,000 children’s items, 905,000 adult items and 190,000 electronic items. Bellingham’s population has more than doubled while circulation of library materials has increased more than six-fold since the Central Library was built in 1951!

Collection: Total materials in our collection in 2014 was 228,946 items, including print books, eBooks, videos and audiobooks.

Programs: We hosted or co-sponsored 993 programs and special events for more than 32,000 attendees. Of those, 660 were children’s programs with more than 26,000 attending.

Cardholders: We had 49,773 registered borrowers at the end of 2014.

Community feedback

While statistics provide good measures of success, data is only the background narrative to the story of how important the Bellingham Public Library is to our community. Feedback is vital, too, and we appreciate hearing about people’s library experiences.

For example, a gentleman recently shared his story with a public services librarian: He thanked us for the “remarkable work that we do and for all our patience,” then described how he struggled in school because of a learning disability. He turned to his local library, and while it took him eight years, he eventually earned a junior college degree. He credited the library with his success at allowing him to learn in his own way.

We also get regular feedback through our online catalog, such as:

“I have been a patron at many libraries but the responsiveness, innovation and care that is at work here is truly remarkable at so many levels.”

“Staff are always really nice and helpful, and branches salted throughout the community are wonderful – the library system is truly one of our community’s gems.”

“I love the website and the ability to have books reserved from home. The library at Barkley is wonderful! Love the library.”

“Thank you for being the best library in the country!”

Technology, education and economic changes confronting today’s citizens are profound, and the very idea of the public library is changing in exciting ways. Measuring our services using data and patron feedback — whether it is compliments, suggestions or complaints — help us make sure our services are in tune with our community’s needs and keeping pace with a rapidly changing world.


Pamela Nyberg Kiesner is the director of the Bellingham Public Library and Chair of the Library Council of Washington.