Save a Buck, Read a Book: Library Cards are Free

by Toni Hopper
Patrons visiting the Garland Smith Public Library in Marlow are greeted by a spacious center and helpful library staff. 
Photo by Toni Hopper/The Marlow Review Patrons visiting the Garland Smith Public Library in Marlow are greeted by a spacious center and helpful library staff.
Photo by Toni Hopper/The Marlow Review

There's just over 4,000 people living in Marlow. Tina Bennett would like every one of them to have a library card.

Her wish might come true based off the numbers of individuals who entered the Garland Smith Public Library during the last year - 2,661 adults and 1,212 juveniles.

Bennett is director of the Marlow library and presented her annual report Tuesday night to the city council. When she was finished, only one council member, Neal Moore, had something to say. "Very impressive." Numbers being the main goal of her presentation, Bennett still found a way to keep listeners engaged by emphasizing the people factor.

"It's a fun spot. People go home to study these days. They come to the library as a social spot," she said. Constantly adding new ideas to draw the public in has proved successful. Bennett and her library staff saw a need for free summer meals. She said there was no such program offered in the community. This summer's program of serving free meals at the library attracted 166 youth and 11 adults.

As more people turn to a preference for digital, libraries are seeking ways to keep patron numbers up and hopefully increasing. The pandemic of COVID-19 is still a problem. Bennett told council that she still must convince some people they can visit the library safely. One factor works to her advantage.

"Here in Marlow, we still have so many who prefer the actual book form." Donations back up her claim. A growing DVD collection is the result of 100 percent donations. Books are also being read and then donated. "They're good books. Marlow's great to us, they rally around." With that comes the need for more shelving to which the city recently approved purchasing. "We are running out of room. We've moved books to the bottom shelves and still need more room. That's why I'm running out of shelf room." It's also why she hesitates to delete popular titles, even if they are James Patterson. She laughed and said he almost needs his own room. She doesn't want to delete items from a series. Many authors today write series.

Other programs include youth enhancement and enrichment, and simple social offerings - including a back-to-school social for parents, a Christmas wrapping station while children make crafts in another room. There's also game day every other Friday for children.

So how many programs were offered this last year?

That would be 259 in all, with attendance numbers at 1,563. Breakdown: Children 114 programs, 352 attendees; Teen 29 and 105; Adult 87 and 414; Family 13 and 66; and Virtual 16 programs with 626 attendees. One of the most popular programs is the adult monthly book club. Last April, they changed the format from reading one book to reading a theme, allowing members to choose any book in that theme to read and discuss.

"I don't like romance and one of our members said she doesn't either. But we both found books we enjoyed," Bennett said.

The idea was to also push readers out of their normal comfort zone. The most recent idea for the book club is posted on the Marlow Library Book Club Facebook page. And it's perfect for those who love a good mystery.

For those who still hesitate to enter the library doors, the library offers free Wi-Fi thanks to grant and state funding. Bennett said it's not unusual to see patrons parked outside at night using the Wi-Fi. If that isn't your thing and you still want a book in hand, you'll be convinced the library is a better alternative in today's economy. Paperbacks are about $8 each off the retail shelf or around $10 on Amazon.

Bennett talked about revenue streams and said late fees/fines for overdue books haven't been increased in years. "A $20 day is a busy day to us," she said. That, paired with fax and copy services, generated $2,486. An additional $2,848 was from state aid, and in two categories for E-rate funding, $9,856 and $21,596, and grants of $7,554 totaled $44,339 for incoming funds.

And while many local readers still prefer a good book in their hand, e-books are more than double the inventory. Actual physical materials in are listed at 27,566, compared to e-books of 61,814 titles. Combining the library circulation numbers and e-books showed 22,930 pieces as checked out. The July 1, 2022-June 20, 2023, report also had 76 materials deleted, but 540 material pieces added, along with 532 donations. Library hours are Noon to 5 p.m. Monday/Wednesday/Friday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday/Thursday; and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.