The Spokane Public Library system has passed a milestone, one that may be a reflection of tough economic times.
Late last month, the library system for the first time reached the two million mark in annual checkouts of books, compact discs and other circulation material.
The library system ended the year with 2,014,756 checkouts, an increase of 5.6 percent over the 1.9 million items borrowed in 2008.
A review of computer records pinpointed the two millionth checkout to the South Hill Library on Dec. 30 at 3:22 p.m.
That patron took out a copy of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the classic 1852 anti-slavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
“We were really excited,” said Eva Silverstone, communications manager at the library.
The economic recession appears to have increased library usage across the country, and the trend can be seen in Spokane’s circulation numbers as well as attendance, Silverstone said.
The gate count — the number of individual visits — to all city branches was 931,186 in 2009, a 5.5 percent increase from 882,698 visits the previous year.
The library also issued 13,648 new cards last year.
Patrons have reported that using the library is a way to save money, Silverstone said. More people are showing up to take advantage of the library’s wireless Internet connections, as well as library computers with Web connections. There has also been an increase in the number of popular books, CDs and movies being circulated.
The library has increased the number of personal computers available to the public through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that contributed $40,000 last year and $27,000 this year. “Just having more computers available brings more people in the door,” Silverstone said. Those people might check out something when they leave, she said.
The grants were obtained after the library’s supporters gathered more than $40,000 in donations for required matching money, she said.
Some of the grant money this year will go for updating catalog computers, which also have limited Web access, and creation of a mobile computer lab that will offer computer classes. In addition, computer printers will be replaced.
The use of technology, including popularity of self-checkouts, has allowed the library management to reorganize staff assignments so that the Downtown Library can be reopened on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. starting Jan. 25.
The Spokane library system previously came close to two million checkouts in 1997 when 1.95 million items were taken out.