The business end of public library

Kay Schwartz, director of the Flint Public Library, spoke to the West Flint Business Association about developments and resources at the library.

Kay Schwartz, director of the Flint Public Library, spoke to the West Flint Business Association about developments and resources at the library.

FLINT TWP. — The West Flint Business Association will be celebrating its 25th year when its monthly meetings resume in September after a summer hiatus.

At its May meeting, the group dispensed its annual scholarship awards and learned about library resources from guest speaker Kay Schwartz, director of the Flint Pubic Library (FPL).

The library offers business research tools, Schwartz said. Using federal funding designated for libraries and schools, the Library of Michigan has purchased business databases that will be available to all citizens.

“We are working with the Genesee District Library to develop some business connections that will make those available to business groups in the community” she said.

She promised to notify WFBA when training and orientation sessions are set up for how to use the databases. That includes information such as how to build marketing mailing lists and business demographics specific to the local community that researchers can use to access information themselves instead of having to pay someone to do it, she said.

The databases can be accessed online through the Library of Michigan website at

Schwartz said she is often asked if anybody uses libraries anymore since the advent of the Internet. Libraries across the country are busier than ever, she said.

Library computers are a big draw. One in five FPL cardholders have never checked out a book, she said

Overall, FPL attracts 700 to 800 patrons per day, has 40,000 active cardholders, and provides free meeting space to 300 groups each year, logs 100,000 computer logins and 200,000 Wi-Fi log-ins. Also librarians answer about 88,000 reference questions a year.

With rising use of technology, the roles of libraries has changed from gatekeeper of information to connectors or guides to information that is spread out all over the place in various formats.

Electronic books and collections are growing in popularity. Two of FPL’s most distant cardholders spend most of their time as missionaries in Malawi but can access books electronically.

“Just as libraries have provided collections of print materials over the years, now we are purchasing collection of e-materials on behalf of our patrons,’’ Schwartz said.

“We don’t loan 16 millimeter films anymore, we loan DVDS. So going from physical books to e-books is a similar format change.’’

Schwartz also talked about the history of FPL and changes in funding that has impacted services. Formed in 1851 by the Ladies Library Association, made up of wives of community leaders, FPL was given to the Flint Community School in the 1880s and remained under its governance for more than 100 years. But in July 2000, after passage of Proposal A, the library had to split from the schools into a separate entity and be responsible for raising its own funding, largely through millage support. The state contributes only about $150,000 to FPL’s annual $3.6 million budget, Schwartz said. As a result of Flint’s declining population base over the past five years, FPL lost about $2 million in property tax revenues. Cuts were necessary in staffing, hours of operation and services. Some popular branches were closed. ”We are expecting that our revenue will stabilize where it is now,’’ Schwartz said.

She also expects to get a grant to bring in national library experts who will help develop a new model of operation for long-term sustainability. ”We are very hopeful they can bring best practices and help us look at everything we do and how we do it,’’ she said.

Schwartz also introduced Ilene K. Harris, director of development, who was hired a few years ago to take charge of formal fundraising efforts.

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