Recession Helps Public Libraries Make Comeback

As people shy away from restaurants and department stores, more and more individuals are going to the public library. Not long ago, many believed that libraries had been destroyed by the Internet, but now money-minded patrons are flocking to the facilities to take advantage of free WiFi, computers, books and videos.

WSJ: [L]ibraries across the country are reporting jumps in attendance of as much as 65% over the past year, as newly unemployed people flock to branches to fill out résumés and scan ads for job listings.

Other recession-weary patrons are turning to libraries for cheap entertainment — killing time with the free computers, video rentals and, of course, books…

This isn’t the first time library attendance has spiked in a downturn. The 1987 and 2001 recessions saw similar jumps, librarians say. But few people thought that libraries would again be in such favour after so much information flooded the Web.

One big draw: Most libraries have put in free computer and Wi-Fi service. And they’ve begun stocking DVDs and video games. With the recession weighing on them, “people recognise what a great value the public library is,” says Jim Rettig, president of the American Library Association in Chicago.

Unfortunately, though, many libraries aren’t adequately staffed to meet this additional demand.

The sheer numbers of jobless visitors are overwhelming some libraries at a time of funding cuts by cash-strapped local agencies. The library in Winter Park, Fla., reports a 25% increase in checkouts of its books and other materials over the past 15 months, even as its budget for stocking new items has been cut 12%.

Some libraries are cutting their hours, reducing staff or even being closed altogether because of budget problems. The Schenectady County Public Library in Schenectady, N.Y., says it has had no money to replace four librarians who have left in the past two years. “As a result, we recently found that it is taking up to five days to reshelf books, as just one tiny example of the impact,” says Karen Bradley, a reference librarian there.

See Also: Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation Bails Out Slow Library Internet Connections
Jobs Numbers Much Worse Than You Think
Monster, Career Builder Unveil New Campaigns Aimed At People With Jobs


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