Libraries in New Jersey may be more popular today than they were pre-pandemic.

It's a misconception that libraries have lost relevance in today's digital world, according to those who see first-hand the activity that occurs at a local library on any given day.

"You will be surprised at what your local library can do for you," said Juliet Machie, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association. "Libraries are dynamic, we are not static in any way, shape or form. We will continue to change how we do business."

Book-lending is still a staple service provided by libraries, but cardholders also have the ability to visit a library online and download books, albums and films. According to Machie, maybe half of the folks who walk through a library's door end up borrowing material on the way out.

Not everyone can get any answer they need at their fingertips. For "digital aliens," as Machie describes them, the local public library is the go-to spot to accomplish tasks that need to be performed over the web. Since the onset of the pandemic, for example, libraries have been attracting individuals who are out of work and need to apply for jobs electronically.

School-aged children still use libraries in significant numbers, Machie added. And resources on hand, along with programming, can assist with "many of life's basic needs."

"It doesn't matter where you are in life, your local library has the capacity to get you from point A to point B, navigate you from where you are to where you're trying to go," she said.

In the pandemic months of 2020, many libraries pivoted to programming over Zoom. Public libraries recorded 1.8 million attendees over that time frame. Of the 31 million items circulated from March through December of 2020, about a third were electronic resources.

"It became magnified for us, the number of our citizens who do not have access to the digital world," Machie said.

According to an analysis by research organization WordsRated, visits to libraries are in a 10-year decline nationally, but libraries have "never been more popular" thanks to a strong shift to digital.

The state-by-state analysis found that New Jersey is home to 4.8 libraries per 100,000 people, and about 44% of New Jersey's population are registered borrowers. Library collections statewide contain more than 25 million books, more than 13 million e-books, and close to 11 million audiobooks. The New Jersey library system is in the top 10 for average visits per library, the number of library programs offered, and funding.

"Based on the direction of funding increases and other metrics, it seems like New Jersey public libraries have been on an overall good track, from a high-level data perspective," said Nicholas Rizzo, research director for WordsRated.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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