Over 200 libraries throughout Massachusetts counted traffic, noted program attendees, numbered Internet users and calculated checked out books as a part of Massachusetts’ Snapshot Day – a national initiative to capture the day in the life of a library.
Among the dozens of South Shore libraries that participated were public libraries from Scituate, Norwell, Duxbury, and Quincy, and school libraries in Hingham and Kingston. On Wednesday, the libraries quantified every activity and photographed every event, all in an effort to bring new awareness to what a library does.
“It’s a mistake to think of libraries as just places that are warehouses for books, because there is a lot more going on in them,” said Jacqueline Rafferty, president of the Massachusetts Library Association and MA Chapter Councilor to the American Library Association. “That’s what snapshot day is meant to convey.”
Besides the communal effort the day cultivates, the statistical knowledge that comes from the counting has a larger effect – awareness.
“There’s been so much attention paid to the rapid transition from print to digital. And as a library advocate, it’s very challenging, for instance when we try to defend library budgets, going to legislators to promote library budgets, or doing it locally, it’s difficult to capture in meaningful sound bites everything libraries do beyond books,” Rafferty said. “We hope Snapshot Day reveals that, despite this public perception that the Internet is replacing the library, just the opposite is happening.”
According to Celeste Bruno, publicist for the MA Board of Library Commissioners, usage statistics for libraries in Massachusetts have increased in each of the past 11 years.
Last year alone, 58 million items were checked out of Massachusetts’ libraries, and over 34 million people visited their libraries throughout the year.
Snapshot Day will provide even more in-depth knowledge of what libraries do – from how many children walked in to how many times librarians helped people with job applications.
Although statistics aren’t yet available for how Snapshot Day went throughout the state, some individual libraries are already reporting high numbers.
In Scituate, 500 people visited the library on Wednesday, a number that didn't surprise Assistant Director Tony Snee.
“The library is well received here in town, and they support us in a variety of ways. We try to service the public, and give them programs they have requested,” Snee said. “[Snapshot Day] is an easy and fun way to draw attention to the fact that we’re here to serve the public.”
For Scituate, Snapshot Day is less about budgetary fodder and more about welcoming an even larger audience to the library – many of whom aren’t aware of all that the place has to offer.
It was partially to show the ever-increasing usage of libraries that drew Patricia Tumulty, the Advocacy Committee chairwoman of the American Library Association, to start the initiative in the first place.
“When we started out [this initiative, we thought] what is the kind of info you can give to someone to make them think of libraries in a different light. But this is just one day in the life of a library. What if they weren’t there, what would happen? It gave people a sense,” she said.
Tumulty and Peggy Cadigan, of the New Jersey State Library, originated the concept of Snapshot Day within New Jersey after the Legislature threatened a 75 percent budget cut on all libraries in 2009.
Snapshot day was merely one of the lobbying techniques that enabled the libraries to limit that cut to 43 percent. This year, because of their efforts, libraries will be level funded throughout the state.
For Massachusetts first Snapshot Day, Tumulty hopes for a similar result.
“I think a lot of them do find it to be a really good advocacy tool to work with decision makers…even with the mayor or council, who may not be as familiar with the libraries, this gives them a real way of showing what is going on at their libraries, and for one day its an easier way for people to wrap their heads around what is going on at a library,” she said.