Library sees 115,000 items checked out, 217,000 Internet users last year

Erin Busbea

In a world increasingly focused on technology, the relevance of the physical book and libraries has been questioned.

However, Erin Busbea, director of the Columbus-Lowndes Library System, told the Columbus Exchange Club Thursday in Lion Hills that the library is moving with the times. The system saw more than 73,000 people review more than 115,000 items at its four locations in Columbus, Caledonia, Artesia and Crawford in 2022.

“Libraries have definitely changed, and that’s a question I get very often: ‘Why and how is the library relevant today? Why do we still need libraries?’” Busbea said. “We still need libraries because there is still a population of people who are not as fortunate as some of us and don’t have access to the Internet. The Internet is a huge thing that has people coming every day. We’re still putting out books, we’re still programming, but one important thing we’re doing is providing computers and Internet access.”

Busbea said there were about 217,000 Internet sessions last year, and that usage includes people who come to the library and use the computers, people who use the Wi-Fi outside the library in the parking lot, and people who they use the library’s Wi-Fi on their phones when they come in.

In addition to having computers available for those with a free library card, there are other non-traditional resources such as an Oculus virtual reality headset, 3D printer, laser cutter, and Cricut cutting machine.

Lee Ann Moore talks with Erin Busbea, director of the Columbus-Lowndes Library System, at the Columbus Exchange Club Thursday at Lion Hills Center about all the library’s offerings. In 2022, more than 73,000 people visited the library system, which contains four branches, one each in Columbus, Caledonia, Artesia, and Crawford. In addition to books and programming, the library offers technology that can be used with a library card. Jessica Lindsey/Dispatch Staff

“We recently did our teen area upstairs (at the downtown Columbus location) and added a virtual reality Oculus,” Busbea said. “If you go in, there’s a teenager who comes in almost every day after school, does his homework and really loves to play on the Oculus. You will see that he has it in his eyes and he can’t see anyone else around him. He has it on, moving around, talking to whoever because you can hear other people playing in the same session. … It’s not just for teens, although it’s in our teen area. We allow adults to use them.”

The library still offers traditional services like checking out books and answering general questions every day from callers. There is also a history and archives department that has legal records dating back to the 19th century.

There are also apps that are used to read books on a phone or other smart device.

Monthly programming for kids, teens, and adults ranges from story time to manga and anime club to book club at The Princess.

Busbea said the purpose of the events is to help build a community among like-minded people.

“There is a group that meets in Caledonia (Public Library) called Coffee and Crafting,” Busbea said. “Sometimes we bring things for them to work on, and other times they bring their own things that they want to work on, be it cross stitch, knitting, painting. We provide the coffee and cookies, and they just sit there for about an hour and a half interacting with each other. That is the most important thing: building a community where you can come together in a common space and enjoy the company of the people who are also in the community with you.”

The library’s annual operating budget is around $850,000 and is largely funded by city, county and state governments, Busbea said.

The city provides $300,000 to the library and the county provides about $375,000. The state provides approximately $65,000, which goes toward employee insurance benefits and retirement adjustment. The library also applies for grants and additional funds and accepts donations.

While government funds go toward operating costs, funds for system programs are paid for by funds raised by the Friends of the Columbus Lowndes Public Library. Last year, the organization donated $34,000 to the library to help pay for programs like Mother Goose’s Valentine’s Day tea party and summer children’s programs with special guests like a magician and petting zoos, Busbea said.

To celebrate 50 years in the downtown Columbus building, the Friends group is paying for a new circulation desk.

“Our building will be 50 years old in May,” Busbea said. “Before that, if you know where the library is downtown, there’s a little white building that’s at the back of the parking lot. That was the library before the library is where it is today. … (The current library) is a beautiful building, but our circulation desk has definitely stood the test of time and it’s time we upgraded it.”

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