With two children who have a voracious appetite for reading, Medford resident Kris Rotge thinks a visit to the library is the perfect way to save a bit of money during the recession.

With two children who have a voracious appetite for reading, Medford resident Kris Rotge thinks a visit to the library is the perfect way to save a bit of money during the recession.

“Books are very expensive,” the 32-year-old mother said. “That is one of the reasons why I come.”

Rotge and other Jackson County residents have boosted circulation numbers to near record levels despite limited hours at most of the 15 branches.

In April 2007, county libraries closed because of funding problems. They reopened in October of that year under the management of a private company, Library Systems and Services LLC (known as LSSI), a Maryland-based company.

In 2005-06, the last full fiscal year county employees ran the libraries, 1,444,813 items were checked out. In 2008-09, circulation came in at 1,411,767, despite reduced hours.

The libraries are open a total of 310 hours a week now, compared to 481 before they were closed for six months, representing a 36 percent decrease.

“Right now the use at libraries, even though they are at part-time, is about what it was before,” said Commissioner Dave Gilmour.

Gilmour made the comment while he presented an award Wednesday to Anne Guevara, Medford library manager who was named employee of the year by LSSI in its western division.

Rotge said she didn’t know much about the problems the library had in the past, but after moving from Texas recently, she is sold on the Medford branch.
“It’s 100 percent nicer than what I’m used to,” she said.

Her 4-year-old daughter Sierra crawled under the display cases with her new friend, 4-year-old Rowan Lance. Rowan said her favorite things at the library are reading books and meeting people.

She didn’t seem to mind a bit of publicity Wednesday. “We got to get our picture,” Rowan said, referring to a photo taken by the Mail Tribune.

Her mother, Elys Lance, said she checks out lots of books for her daughter each week as she relaxed in a chair in the children’s section.

The 38-year-old Medford resident said she hasn’t noticed much of a difference in service since the private company took over.

“It’s pretty much the same except for the reduced hours,” she said. Lance has noticed that check-out is a lot easier thanks to an automated system.

Lance said the hours are somewhat inconvenient and require more flexibility on her part. “Once you get used to it, you can make it work,” she said.

Denise Galarraga, director of Jackson County Library Services, said the economy may be helping boost circulation numbers despite limited hours. “I think undoubtably there is that effect,” she said.

While books remain the most popular item to check out, other materials such as movie DVDs are a hit, particularly new releases. “They fly off the shelf,” she said. “They never get on the shelf because people put holds on them.”

Books on CD are popular, and it is becoming more common for people to download audio books from the library system’s Web site, www.jcls.org. “We download about 800 a month,” said Galarraga.

Computer use has been both heavy and light at times, but a grant helped with the purchase of 110 computers and 118 monitors that will be installed at branches across the county, she said.

The library system offers many programs, including the popular storytime.

Overall attendance in all programs increased from 3,500 in June 2008 to 6,000 in June 2009. Storytime attracted 15,308 children and 7,676 adults in 2008-09.

Meeting rooms are extremely popular, attracting people in 2008-09 at 3,649 separate meetings. The Medford branch attracted 59 percent of the people who attended meetings.

A regular visitor to the Medford branch, Cristy Sanders, said she picks up 10 to 15 books a week for her three children, and the reduced hours are only a minor inconvenience.

“It’s hard sometimes because you can’t come in during the evenings,” the 29-year-old mother said. “It’s a small price to pay for having it open.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.