Library visits down but circulation is up; see which books get checked out most

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Visits to Harold Washington Library Center are down 19 percent in 2018 compared with 2011, but many continue to visit the library. | Tanveer Ali / Sun-Times

Chicagoans aren’t heading to libraries like they used to, but that doesn’t mean checking out books is a thing of the past.

During the first six months of 2018, the Chicago Public Library lent 2.5 million books and other materials in person at its 80 locations, according to library data. That’s down 32 percent from the same six months in 2011.

But because of technology that allows people to download books from the library and ways to renew books without walking into a branch, Chicagoans actually are checking out more materials from the library.

Through the end of June, 5.2 million items have been checked out from the library system — 12 percent higher than the 4.6 million during the same period in 2011.

“Back in 2011, you essentially had to go in to the library to renew your item,” says Patrick Molloy, a library spokesman. “Print resources are in decline, and there a lot more public libraries relying on experiential programs. There are quite a bit more people walking in the door for the experience.”

The number of people visiting libraries has fallen by 24 percent since 2011.

Most branches have seen a drop in visits since 2011, though a handful of neighborhood branches have become more popular, notably the Albany Park and Edgewater branches, which have moved to new buildings this decade.

Others on the West Side and the South Side — including the Galewood-Mont Clare and Brainerd branches and the West Chicago branch in Humboldt Park — also have seen growth.

Programs beyond the circulation desk are growing, Molloy says, including the multimedia-focused YOUmedia program for teens that will be available at 22 branches by 2019.

Patrons also still come to the library for traditional reasons.

“It’s a safe haven for many people, especially students from working-class homes,” says Daniel Ibarra, an 18-year-old premedical student at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

During the summer, Ibarra makes the trip from his family’s Little Village home to the Harold Washington Library Center three times a month to study. He comes more often while school is in session.

Ibarra says he comes to the library to take advantage of the resources. He also says he uses the library in a different way than when he went to the Little Village branch as a child.

“I would go almost every day,” Ibarra says. “My mom would say, ‘You gotta read.’ ”

<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Click here to read an excerpt of “Little Fires Everywhere”</a> — the most checked-out book from the Chicago Publi

Click here to read an excerpt of “Little Fires Everywhere” — the most checked-out book from the Chicago Public Library.

Chicago Public Library’s 25 most-checked out books

This covers January through June of this year and excludes renewals and other formats, like e-books.

  1. “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng
  2. “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn
  3. “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff
  4. “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio
  5. “I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers, and The Music That Shaped the Civil Rights Era” by Greg Kot
  6. “The Rooster Bar” by John Grisham
  7. “Origin” by Dan Brown
  8. “Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan
  9. “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones
  10. “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward
  11. “The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin
  12. “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders
  13. “Two Kinds of Truth” by Michael Connelly
  14. “The Midnight Line” by Lee Child
  15. “The People vs. Alex Cross” by James Patterson
  16. “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann
  17. “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
  18. “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance
  19. “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee
  20. “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
  21. “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles
  22. “The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah
  23. “Are You Ready to Play Outside?” by Mo Willems
  24. “The Power” by Naomi Alderman
  25. “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss
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