There were 1,179 books and other materials on hold just before Christmas at the Chapel Hill Public Library.
That’s not uncommon, library staff said, and for popular authors and subjects, the hold list can start before the book is even released.
The library reported a 25 percent increase this year in the number of visitors and an 18 percent increase in the amount of materials being checked out from the year before. Staff spent $213,000 on materials in 2013, or about 8 percent of the library’s $2.7 million budget.
That includes everything from “tree” (print) books and e-books to DVDs, periodicals and CDs, director Susan Brown said. The Friends of the Chapel Hill Public Library and the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation provide a great deal more help and money, she said.
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But most of the money – about 67 percent – pays for roughly two dozen full-time staff members.
“We try to balance being responsive to what our customers want and also being good stewards with the dollars that we’ve got,” Brown said.
Complicating that work is the skyrocketing popularity of some books in recent years, said Meeghan Rosen, head of technical services. People used to read books on the bestseller charts, she said, but now there’s more “group think” because of social media and other sources of information.
Chapel Hill resident Mike Czeiszperger understands some books may be more in demand than others, but says it can still be frustrating in light of the library’s $16.2 million expansion and renovation.
Czeiszperger and his daughter Zoe, 14, have been regular patrons since 2001. Most recently, he said, Zoe wanted to learn more about robots. He took her to the library for a copy of Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot,” published in 1950.
The book was on hold for months, he said, and so were several other books they sought this year. The family has started buying books it really wants to read from Amazon and taking them to the library, Czeiszperger said.
“The new Chapel Hill Public Library is a beautiful, well lighted and inviting public space. My daughter and I love to go there and hang out in comfy chairs near the windows reading our favorite books,” he said. “The only problem is the books we’re reading aren’t actually from the library.”
The staff needs to hear those frustrations, Brown said, because there may be a mistake or another, similar book they could recommend.
That’s the idea behind the new comment board near the main entrance, she said. Customers can write what they like, don’t like or want to see changed, and the staff will post the notes – and a response – on the board. Brown said they try to respond within a week.
“In a new building and a community like this, we are always looking to improve everything we do,” she said. “We have some ideas, but our users are going to have lots of ideas.”
In deciding which books to order and how many, Meeghan Rosen, head of technical services, said they consider such factors as the author’s popularity, the buzz around the book and how many are being printed. The wait list for highly anticipated books can start before they’re released.
They re-order new books for every seven copies on hold, she said; for older books, it’s five books on hold.
Right now, the library’s most popular book is author John Grisham’s book, “Gray Mountain.” The library has 14 copies, and 57 patrons have put it on their hold list, copy cataloger Pat Tyler said. It is followed by Michael Connelly’s book, “The Burning Room,” with 12 copies and 55 holds, she said.