Becky Bilby presents at Sioux Center City Council

Sioux Center Public Library director Becky Bilby told the Sioux Center City Council it’s been a good year for programs, which cover a variety of subjects and activities.

SIOUX CENTER—Sioux Center Public Library has continued to add to its collection and program options through the last fiscal year and has enough checkouts of physical and electronic materials to rival that of the libraries in Sioux City and Waterloo.

Those are some of the tidbits shared by library director Becky Bilby during her annual report to the Sioux Center City Council at its Jan. 5 meeting.

The size of a library’s collection varies from year to year and isn’t the most important metric, Bilby said, but Sioux Center’s library has seen solid stats on that front. The library had in its collection for fiscal year 2021 159,176 physical and downloadable materials. It’s been a steady increase in the last three years, as there were 156,095 such materials in 2020 and 140,630 in 2019.

More important to note is the circulation rate that a library sees; that is, how many physical materials are being checked out by patrons.

For fiscal year 2019, there were 234,904 items checked out of the library. In 2020, that dipped to 197,910 and in 2021, it was 195,839. Including downloadable materials, that number jumps to 248,135.

“Circulation is the bread and butter and the big deal in the library world,” Bilby said, adding, “We’re still making a comeback. Libraries across the nation are seeing a downward trend in physical checkouts at the library. People aren’t coming to the library to write reports anymore or to check out stacks of books. They’re doing it all online.”

The continued rise of online streaming services also means the library’s collection of DVDs aren’t as in demand as they used to be. Most of the books being checked out are what Bilby called pleasure reading and self-help. Nonfiction isn’t moving as much as it used to, either.

But things look better when adding electronic materials downloaded to the totals. When that is done, the library saw 221,022 checkouts for its materials in fiscal year 2021. That’s among the highest for Iowa libraries in towns between 5,000-10,000 people and is more in line with the libraries of Sioux City and Waterloo.

“It means that our community uses their library and that’s why we do what we do,” Bilby said.

Bilby said it takes a lot of work to continue to promote the digital offerings available at the library, but it’s necessary to make sure people are aware it’s there for them and how it can be utilized.

“Once you do that, it really pays off,” Bilby said. “It’s an easy thing to have and offer people.”

And with these trends in mind, more money is being allocated for digital resources.

All of this is with 7,558 patrons for 2021. About 1,000 of them are outside of Sioux County. There were 6,484 patrons recorded in 2020 and 6,623 in 2019.

Programming continues to play an important role in engaging with the public, and the number of programs has increased in the last three years, according to Bilby.

There were 544 programs happening at the library in 2021, 509 in 2020 and 462 in 2019.

“That’s a credit to all of them for being able to think outside the box,” Bilby said.

Councilman Eric Moerman said the library’s programs have helped his fifth-grade daughter learn new skills.

“My daughter’s sewing, cooking, programming on a computer. It’s incredible the programs you’re offering there and kudos to you guys for it,” he said.

The rates at which the library’s meeting rooms are rented are another important metric recorded from year to year.

There were 1,216 meeting room rentals in fiscal year 2021 and 1,378 in fiscal year 2020. In fiscal year 2019, there were 1,084 rentals.

“COVID also taught people you can work from home and need a quiet place to work from home,” Bilby said. “So, our small meeting rooms are busy. A lot of the times they’re full. We have businessmen and all kinds of different people coming in to use those small meeting rooms for a conference call or whatever it might be. Those numbers are great, and we’re thrilled with that.”

The library’s lab was the most-used meeting space at 274 rentals, but that is due to use by Northwest Iowa Community College, which has an agreement with the library to host some classes there.

Otherwise, the study room sees plenty of use with 214 rentals.

To bolster its funds, the library continues to seek grants and funding opportunities. Bilby reported that in the last fiscal year, the library received $5,000 from the Sioux Center Generations Grant to purchase new bookshelves, $1,500 from the Dollar General Summer Reading Grant for the library’s summer reading program, $5,000 from the Americans Rescue Grant for e-resource use due to COVID-19 and five cans of paint donated from Diamond Vogel through the Keep Iowa Beautiful Grant.

One challenge the library faces is meeting the needs of Spanish-speaking guests. Frequently, these Spanish-speaking visitors need assistance filling out online job applications. Some of these people struggle with how to use a computer, requiring another level of assistance.

“We have four people on staff who can help them,” Bilby said. “I staff two people at the desk all the time. When one gets taken away to go fill out an application, that front desk can get a little chaotic. We’ve tried to institute as of Jan. 1 that three times a week, we give them a little card in Spanish that says to come in during these times when we will have people available to help you. But they’re not really happy with that yet.”