JANESVILLE—Checkouts for physical items at the Hedberg Public Library fell below 1 million in 2015 for the first time since 2000, but electronic books continued to make leaps in popularity.

The changing landscape of libraries could also be seen elsewhere, according to statistics released by the Hedberg Public Library. For the first time ever, the library hosted more than 1,000 programs in 2015, and use of the library's database rose 18.7 percent from 2014.

“It's basically what you're seeing nationally. It's basically what I thought it would be,” said Bryan McCormick, the library's director.

He cited general digital-age trends and an improving economy to explain the decrease in physical item checkouts and the increase in e-book usage.

“As the economy improves, you'll see people start to use the Redbox more often. They'll go to the Barnes and Noble,” McCormick said.

According to the Pew Research Center, print books are trending down, with 63 percent of Americans reading one within a year. Meanwhile, e-books are on the rise, with 27 percent of Americans reading one within a year.

Physical items, including books and DVDs, were checked out 950,768 times at Hedberg in 2015, a 10.7 percent drop from the year before. Checkouts for those items have declined every year since at least 2010, and the 10.7 percent dip is by far the largest year-to-year decline in that period.

The Hedberg last failed to reach 1 million checkouts for physical items in 2000, when it topped out at 977,130. McCormick said checkouts for physical items routinely maxed out at around 700,000 in the 1990s.

He characterized 2015 numbers as “a return to normalcy.”

E-books, although still much less popular than physical items, continued to make a significant growth in usage. They were checked out 55,983 times in 2015, a 20.2 percent increase. Every other year since 2010, e-books have grown in popularity by 30 to 66 percent annually.

McCormick doesn't see that trend ending soon. He expects electronic checkouts to increase by at least 20 percent annually for sometime, and he said Hedberg is prepared to meet that higher demand.

Through the library, users have access to an online catalog called Overdrive to checkout electronic materials. McCormick said that come this summer, Hedberg members also will be able to use a second catalog called Hoopla.

McCormick called the general attendance numbers for 2015 at the Hedberg unreliable, saying the machine used to count visitors malfunctioned at times.

The official count reached 529,441, which would mean a 20.5 percent decrease from 2014. But McCormick said a more realistic total would be 629,000 visitors, which would amount to a 3.3 percent drop.

“It sucks because that's the number I have to report tot he state,”he said.

Other figures released by the Hedberg include:

-- The number of programs hosted by the library hit triple digits (1,001) for the first time in 2015, a 16.2 percent increase from 2014. They drew 3,569 people, a 7.2 percent rise. The Hedberg is trying to raise money for an interior remodeling project that will focus on creating more space for public events.

-- Computer usage (which does not include Wi-Fi use) rose 0.9 percent. McCormick said he suspects more people are bringing their own devices to the library to use the Internet. He said the library averages 3,700 Wi-Fi users a month.

-- The library's staff fielded 9.8 percent more reference questions in 2015. Overall, the number has gone up by 23.5 percent since 2010. McCormick attributed that to guests asking how to use various technologies and the staff being more proactive about asking visitors if they need help.

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