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As CT libraries emerge from pandemic, visits are up, audio downloads spike and fines are vanishing

A librarian is center stage entertaining a reading circle made up of children and adults. libraries across Connecticut are seeing a bounceback in visitors following the COVID-19 pandemic, but the way people are using libraries in the state continues to evolve.
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A librarian is center stage entertaining a reading circle made up of children and adults. libraries across Connecticut are seeing a bounceback in visitors following the COVID-19 pandemic, but the way people are using libraries in the state continues to evolve.

Libraries across Connecticut are seeing a bounceback in visitors following the COVID-19 pandemic, but the way people are using libraries continues to evolve.

That’s according to a report released Wednesday by the Connecticut State Library. It surveyed libraries over the last fiscal year, combining that data with observations gathered over the last decade.

The report reveals a library system struggling with flat staffing levels and a decline in registered borrowers as in-person programs increase and attendance rises following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Visits, circulation and program attendance are all growing at libraries, according to the report, with visits doubling since fiscal year 2021.

But the number of residents with library cards in Connecticut continues to drop. Currently, only about one in three state residents has a library card, a decline of nearly 24% since 2002.

The number of full-time equivalent employees in Connecticut public libraries has also stagnated since that year, remaining nearly the same despite a boost in services, according to the report.

“Libraries are institutions that specialize in stories, and we know data is often the best way to tell the story of libraries’ impact on their communities,” Deborah Schander, Connecticut state librarian, said in a statement. “These reports present accurate, current information that public libraries and others can use to convey and understand the critical role libraries continue to play in the lives of residents across the state.”

Audio downloads spike, overdue fines continue to vanish

While in-person visits to libraries are up, how people engage with library materials is changing.

More library users are opting for audio downloads in apps, up nearly 80% from just a few years ago.

As audio downloads spike, overdue fees for materials are going away.

More than two-thirds of public libraries in Connecticut now report doing away with overdue fines. Libraries who say they have eliminated these fines have grown by more than 25% over last year.

Online library card registration, which was introduced by many libraries during the pandemic, also continues to grow. About three out of every four libraries in the state now offer this service. The report notes online card registration could help boost sagging numbers of registered borrowers across the state.

Meanwhile, physical books continue to make their way into the hands of state residents.

Total circulation numbers have been on a downward slide for more than a decade, but the report notes increased foot traffic in libraries could be contributing to an uptick in physical book circulation.

The average child or young adult in Connecticut borrowed 12 items from libraries during fiscal year 2023, according to the report, a slight increase from last year.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.