By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County chalked up slight gains in circulation last year despite reducing hours at its 41 branches.
Circulation of books and other items was up 3 percent over 2002, helped by a 14 percent surge in December compared to the same month a year earlier.
An even bigger factor was a 13 percent increase in audio-visual materials such as DVDs and books on CD in 2003.
"Audio-visual is about a third of our overall circulation," Library Services Director Keith Kuhn told library trustees Monday. "This is a very strong trend we're seeing in public libraries across the country."
On the downside, the library saw a 2 percent slide in book circulation last year, and it heads into 2004 with continued reductions in funding and operating hours. The library shortened hours to save on salaries after the state cut funding in mid-2002, and patrons rejected a plan to cover the losses by closing five branches.
The library relies on the state for 95 percent of its money. It expects to get $51.8 million from state and other sources this year - less than its income five years ago. The General Assembly voted last year to keep the lower level of library funding at least through mid-2005.
Meanwhile, Executive Director Kimber Fender said, the cost of books and labor keeps going up. Magazine subscriptions went up 10 percent last year alone, she said.
The library is trying to do more with less.
"We have to emphasize that we're giving good service," Fender said. "And we're really trying to find new ways of giving people what they want without staffing additional locations."
For instance, she said, the library is improving its Web site, www.cincinnatilibrary.org. People can not only search the database for a title or author, but they can get homework help and access research materials.
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