By Scott Hammers

The Bulletin

Deschutes County residents are checking out more e-books and audio books from the Deschutes County Library than library patrons in any other corner of Oregon.

The library board heard a presentation from library director Todd Dunkelberg on Wednesday outlining some of the facts and figures used to measure the library system’s effectiveness.

While visits and checkouts of physical materials are down, downloads of books and music offered by the library are on the rise, Dunkelberg said. First introduced by the Deschutes library seven years ago, downloadable e-books, audio books and music now make up almost 28 percent of the system’s total circulation.

Because e-books don’t sit on shelves in a library branch, they can be checked out at any time of day. Dunkelberg said on average, patrons check out 100 e-books during the overnight hours when the branches are closed.

Dunkelberg said downloadable audio books have helped popularize listening to books — such downloads are up almost sixfold over five years in the Deschutes system. As more people have flocked to audio books, publishers have responded, he said, producing higher quality recordings and making more titles available.

“This isn’t a new thing,” he said. “We had books on cassette 30 years ago, but it’s just in the last few years it’s taken off.”

Dunkelberg said libraries everywhere have been wrestling with a similar challenge in recent years: attracting people to use their resources. The problem is driven in significant part by the emergence of the internet as a research and reference tool. Circulation and visitor numbers are down around the country, he said, though locally, continued population growth has helped buffer the decline.

Visitor counts at the library system’s six branches peaked in 2008-09, and are essentially the same as was the case 15 years ago.

Visits are down at the downtown Bend branch, from around 580,000 in the 2008-09 fiscal year to around 350,000 in the most recent year. Some of that decline can be attributed to the opening of the East Bend branch in 2011 — the small library in a strip mall on U.S. Highway 20 now sees around 130,000 visitors each year.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387,