By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — The Salem Public Library has the highest circulation in the region.
So, what drew the library’s 236,305 visitors last year?
It’s a mix of factors, library director Nancy Tracy said.
The Essex Street facility is open seven days a week, offers myriad programs and services — from bilingual story times for children to an entire room devoted to resources on Salem history — and has a staff who “really want to help patrons find what they’re looking for,” Tracy said.
“We like to think of ourselves as a destination library,” she said. “People want to make the effort to get here.”
Salem’s library has the highest circulation figure in the North of Boston Library Exchange, which includes 17 municipal libraries, nine college and university libraries, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ professional library, and the library at Phillips Academy Andover, a private high school.
For fiscal 2012, Salem’s circulation was 493,000 items, which includes everything from traditional and e-books to DVDs and children’s materials.
While Salem has had the highest circulation in the NOBLE network for a number of years, it doesn’t mean other local libraries aren’t up to snuff, Tracy said.
“All the (local) libraries are doing great things,” Tracy said.
NOBLE includes municipal libraries across the North Shore, as well as Everett, Gloucester, Lynn, Lynnfield, Melrose, Saugus, Wakefield and others.
The library helps people, Tracy said — whether it’s a non-native speaker of English coming in for books on becoming a U.S. citizen to parents meeting other local parents at a children’s room activity or an unemployed person using a public computer to find jobs over the Internet.
“I really believe we’re helping people, even if it’s as simple as helping them find something they want to read,” Tracy said.
Tracy is finishing her second year as library director but has worked at the Salem Public Library for 18 years. Previously, Tracy worked as a children’s room assistant, head of circulation and was the library’s assistant director for seven years.
Looking ahead, Tracy said she’d like to build on Salem’s top circulation numbers, as well as bring in new ideas.
“Technology is king, and always changing,” she said. “But you don’t want to lose that personal touch, and I think that’s something our staff brings.”
In Salem, parking and lack of space are the library’s two major challenges, she said. The library has no parking lot; patrons must find on-street parking.
“One of our biggest problems is space,” said Tracy, looking around at shelves full of DVDs and books on a recent afternoon.
Library staff is constantly thinking about using — and reusing — space creatively. Materials are spread over three floors, and just about every available square inch is in use.
A mini-lounge was recently set up in the young adult section, with a carpet and plush chairs for youths to gather. Newly released books are displayed on circular shelves near the front door, to entice patrons to browse and possibly take away more than they came in for.
A collection of Spanish-language books have their own shelf on an upper floor; the children’s room also has bilingual and Spanish materials. Computers — some for word processing, some for Internet use — are set up around the library. In the children’s room, computers are separated for use for homework, the Internet and games.
The library operates on funding from the state and city budgets, as well as some from the library’s seven-member Board of Trustees, Tracy said.
Salem has a “strong” children’s room, and its programming is always well-attended, Tracy said. In the summer, at least two programs are offered each day, as well as weekly family nights with activities for children and parents.
Library staff do literacy and library outreach in the Salem Public Schools; one librarian also does bilingual story times at day care centers in The Point neighborhood.
The library’s most recent major renovation was in the 1980s, Tracy said.
The library building itself is a piece of Salem’s history. Built in the 1850s, it was originally the home of John Bertram, a sea captain, merchant and railroad investor, and his family.
Bertram died in 1882, and his family donated the home to the city of Salem, for use as a public library, in 1887. The library opened its doors in July 1889.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.
SALEM PUBLIC LIBRARY: BY THE NUMBERS
15: number of full-time staff members
30 (approximately): part-time staff, including high school pages
68: hours open, per week
3,372: hours open, per year
236,305: visitors in fiscal 2012
537: followers of @SalemMALibrary on Twitter.com
16: computers available for Internet use
493,000: items taken out from the library in fiscal 2012
263,473: books borrowed (97,010 children’s books, 166,463 adult)
4,897: e-books borrowed
176,722: video/DVD items borrowed (33,309 children’s items; 143,413 adult)
40,454: audio materials borrowed
56,121: transactions (people asking questions) at the reference desk
320: children’s programs held
9,184: people who attended children’s programs
Note: All data is for fiscal 2012, which ended June 30.
Source: Salem Public Library director Nancy Tracy