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E-books at Chicago public libraries nearly doubling in popularity

Brian Bannwas named new Chicago Public Library Commissioner by Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday City Hall. |  Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Brian Bannon was named new Chicago Public Library Commissioner by Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday at City Hall. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 20, 2012 10:54AM

Chicago Public Library patrons are downloading nearly twice as many e-books, audio books, videos and music than they did a year ago, fueling the need to license more materials to satisfy demand, a top mayoral aide said Thursday.

Library Commissioner Brian Bannon said items downloaded from the city’s website still represent only 3.2 percent of the 7.35 million items circulated through Sept. 30.

But Bannon said, “It grew by 80 percent from last year and is an increasingly popular format for our patrons. We see those numbers continuing to grow. . . . We’re continuing to invest in licensing and purchasing additional content for the purpose of downloading. It’s become a very popular service.”

Ald. Marge Laurino (39th) said she owns a Kindle and looks forward to downloading a book.

“When the book is due, you don’t have to worry about bringing it back. It disappears,” Laurino said.

Testifying Thursday at City Council budget hearings, Bannon also disclosed that Chicago’s first library amnesty in 20 years returned 101,301 overdue items worth $2 million to the shelves and welcomed back 37,509 patrons who had “stopped coming” for fear of getting caught.

Many of the scofflaws were children, making their return all the more gratifying and worth the $170,000 in fines waived.

“It was a pretty extraordinary return on our investment,” Bannon said.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) was grateful, adding, “My children would have cost me a significant amount of money but for that program.”

The Chicago Public Library system absorbed 50 percent of the layoffs in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first budget. The library cuts were so great, they prompted the resignation in January of longtime Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey.
Earlier this year, Emanuel announced that Chicago’s 76 branch libraries would re-open on Monday mornings this fall, thanks to the city’s decision to replace higher-paid librarians with 105 lower-paid library pages.

Instead of staffing library branches using a one-size-fits-all model, Bannon used circulation, foot traffic, technology use and reference needs to determine staffing for individual branches, reallocate staff and fill vacancies with a mix of full- and part-time positions.

That’s apparently why the tone of Thursday’s hearing was decidedly more positive than last year’s version.

“We did a disservice last year. This budget is much more respectful to what libraries represent to the people of Chicago,” said Ald. John Arena (45th).

But it wasn’t all sweetness and light.

With new branches scheduled to open next year in Edgewater, a newly expanded library set to re-open in Humboldt Park and plans in the works for new libraries in Albany Park and Chinatown, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) had a bone to pick with Bannon.

“Everything is happening, but not on the South Side,” said Hairston, who waited 11 years to get a new library in Grand Crossing and says she needs another one in South Shore.

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