Hamiltonians with library cards use their library more than card holders in any other major municipality in Ontario. And with the proliferation of fake news, city councillors say, that's a good thing.

'Our card holders are extremely engaged in our system.' - George Geczy, library board chair

Annual figures from Hamilton Public Library (HPL) show the city is No. 1 among 49 other libraries, ranging in size from Norfolk County to Toronto, when it comes to circulations per card holder.

Each card holder used it for 41.82 transactions per year in 2014, including digital items. And that high usage is continuing, said George Geczy, chair of the library board, to a city budget meeting Thursday.

The next highest municipality is Ottawa with 38.50 transactions per card holder, followed by Oxford County with 37.94  and Guelph with 37.39.

"Among large or small libraries," Geczy said, "our card holders are extremely engaged in our system."

The numbers come from Canadian Urban Library Council, Federation of Ontario Public Libraries and the Municipal Benchmarking Networking Canada (formerly the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative). In all, 158,593 of Hamilton's 519,949 residents are active card holders.

'There are a lot of home pages that are just full of nonsense.' - Coun. Sam Merulla

Paul Takala, HPL CEO and chief librarian, attributes the high circulation-per-card holder rate to the library's attention to detail.

Library staff closely track circulation habits, Takala said, and tailor their services accordingly.

Library usage got a lot of love at Thursday's city hall budget meeting, where the board asked the city for a budget increase of 1.8 per cent over 2016. Last week, Coun. Donna Skelly of Ward 7 pressed on whether the increase was necessary in today's world of Google searches, which made headlines.

Skelly said Thursday that she's "very supportive of our libraries," but she plans to scrutinize the budgets for all the city's boards and agencies.

"You unfortunately are the first ones at the table," she said. "That doesn't mean you're not getting your 1.8 per cent increase." 

'More pressing than before'

In a world where fake news is becoming more common – as is internet-spread misinformation – libraries "should be a guiding principal in where we're headed as a community," said Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor.

"There are a lot of home pages that are just full of nonsense," Merulla said. "It even played a role in electing a president, I believe."

"The need to make sure sources are reliable is even more pressing than before."

Visits to brick-and-mortar branches are up

More people are visiting physical libraries in Hamilton too, the HPL said in its presentation.

In-person visits have increased 12.7 per cent in the last year – from 3.50 million visits in 2015 to 3.95 million in 2016. The 2015 number, however, was lower than the year before, when 3.71 million people visited Hamilton libraries.

Takala said the library has been focusing on getting rid of parts of its collection people don't use anymore – encyclopedias, for example – to create more physical space in the libraries.

With that space, he said, HPL is adding more technology such as 3D printers, and creating attractive study areas and community spaces to draw people into the building. HPL also opened a new Waterdown library branch last year, which boosted the number of visits.

HPL's 2017 levy request is $29,338,930, or $518,770 over 2016.


Annual circulations per card holder as of 2014

  • Hamilton: 41.82.
  • Ottawa: 38.50.
  • Oxford County: 37.94.
  • Guelph: 37.39.
  • Richmond Hill: 37.13.
  • Halton Hills: 35.02.
  • Windsor: 34.64.
  • Toronto: 34.03.
  • Brampton: 33.75.
  • Chatham-Kent: 33.74.