Was it life as we knew it upended by a pandemic, or a rediscovery of the joys of the printed page that accounted for last year's eye-popping statistical changes at the Amagansett Library? Probably both, Lauren Nichols, the library's director, said this week.
Use of electronic materials exploded last year, the library seeing 10,133 e-books and videos downloaded, an increase of 142 percent. In total, circulation was up 65 percent, to 32,269 print and electronic materials.
The library's annual review, distributed by email on Monday, also included news of a 16.4-percent increase in print circulation in 2020, to 22,136 items. This, despite a precipitous decline in physical visits that Ms. Nichols estimated at 90 percent, to 5,200. (The library was closed to the public for six months during the pandemic.)
"I think we're just seeing a trend back to the print book, and certainly e-books," Ms. Nichols said. "Print circulation is counter to the nationwide trend, and I think unique to Amagansett. It could be attributed to new neighbors," those who fled New York City and other metropolitan areas for more open spaces, "but also to rediscovering the love of the printed word. It's a different experience from being on a computer."
The library notched 1,580 reference questions last year. While the quantity was in line with the previous year, the nature of the questions was not. "Instead of folks popping in asking for directions, questions were more about unemployment, how to download e-books, or where to donate food," Ms. Nichols said.
The library offered 561 programs, its classes and workshops having migrated from in-person to video-conference format with the onset of the pandemic. There were 4,477 participants. "There's certainly a broader audience base," Ms. Nichols said. "Folks who haven't participated before were able to."
The library reopened to the public in September, with limited seating and visitors required to wear masks and asked to wash their hands or use provided hand sanitizer before entering. The building was given a daily deep cleaning and all returned items were quarantined for a time. MERV 13 air filters and UV-C lighting was installed in the HVAC system, and medical-grade HEPA filters were installed throughout.
The library now offers in-person browsing and curbside pickup Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Online events and research databases can be found at amagansettlibrary.org, where registered borrowers -- 2,320 of them, per the year in review -- can download items and request materials.
The library's lower level has been reorganized to allow for more public space, and young people now have a dedicated study room to themselves. The Carleton Kelsey Local History Room, on the second floor, has been opened to the public. "It seems people are hopeful now," Ms. Nichols said, "so the vibe is changing."
"The board of trustees and staff have worked hard," the year in review message states, "to sustain our vision of the Amagansett Free Library as a wellspring of educational enrichment and as the cultural hub of our hamlet during the pandemic."