As Economy Plummets, Activity At Local Library Booms
Library leaders say it's a national trend.
By KELLY CALES | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | March 08, 2009*** Published: March 2, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***
BRISTOL, Va. – Crystal Hubbard started her biweekly treks to the library, children in tow, when the economy headed south.
"Movies we have today for free we'd spend around $10 dollars to rent," Hubbard said as she rummaged through stacks of videos at the Bristol Public Library with her two children, Lauren, 10, and Garrett, 8.
Hubbard said after cutting movie rentals and other entertainment from the family budget she has no problem finding free alternatives.
"The library has all kinds of movies, CDs, books and audio tapes," she said.
As the economy plummets, activity at the local library is booming.
Bristol Public Library Director Jud Barry said the library has seen a 10 percent leap in circulation in the past six months as residents search for ways to keep more money in their wallets.
"The library offers something for everyone, from entertainment for kids and teens to job resources for adults, and all for free," Barry said.
The Johnson City and Kingsport public libraries report similar increases.. Library leaders say it's a national trend.
"Library cardholders are reaching record numbers, library usage is reaching record numbers, our growth in the last couple of months has been far greater than any other percentage I've seen recorded," Washington County Public Library Director Charlotte Parsons said.
Parsons reported a 24 percent increase in activity at the county library..
The American Library Association reported in September that the number of Americans who have library cards was up 5 percent since 2006. That data, from a Harris Poll, represents the greatest number of Americans with library cards since the association started tracking usage in 1990. The poll also showed that library visits were up 10 percent over 2006, and that 76 percent of Americans visited a library in the previous year, the association said in a written news statement on the survey.
"As the nation continues to experience a downturn in the economy, libraries are providing the tools needed to help Americans get back on their feet," Association President Jim Rettig said in the statement, which is available at www.ala.org.
For people like Mike Ward, who recently lost his job as a shipping clerk for Universal Companies Inc. in Abingdon, the library has become a newfound playground.
"This is my first time here. I have more time on my hands and I'm just finding out all the good stuff they have to offer," Ward said as he searched for exercise books. "I might as well take care of myself," he said.
Libraries statewide have taken a 4 percent cut in state funding, but that hasn't stopped the customers. Local librarians said they can barely keep up.
"People are using the library's resources to find jobs and learn new skills," Bristol librarian Susan Wolfe said. "They want to send resumes, fill out online applications, network, search for jobs."
Library patron Jeff McCracken said he uses the library's computers three to four times a week. "With the economy and the cost of Internet this is a much better alternative," he said.
McCracken is unemployed and uses the Internet to play games and search for jobs. "A lot of jobs you have to apply online. I've applied for jobs like Food City and Walmart online," he said.
McCracken said he began frequenting the Bristol library last year and considers it a nice, free, form of entertainment. "It's quiet and a good place to sit and relax," he said.
Barry notes that many visitors seeking to compete in a bad job market also are drawn to the free educational opportunities the library provides. The Bristol Public Library offers help to visitors at no cost with GED preparation, remedial reading, writing, mathematics, computer skills, resume writing, military tests, English as a Second Language and college entrance exams.
Peggy Hilliard believes these classes offer hope for people like her with no college degree.
"Problems I have today in the job field ... they are looking for people with better degrees and more experience and that's why I'm trying to get more training to get back in the job field," Hilliard said.
Hilliard has been unemployed since June and has been coming to the library for help in math for the past three months.
"I'm getting a refresh in my math to try to get back into college to get a better degree," Hilliard said.
Hilliard said she is thankful the service is free. "I couldn't afford to pay for this right now," she said.
Parsons said the increase in people like Hilliard and other visitors using the library's free services isn't surprising.
"People come to libraries at times like this, it's always been true. When money is tight people turn to public libraries and that's a good thing, it's a good thing that we are here to provide those services for people particularly in times when money is hard to find for the individual," Parsons said.
Staff Writer Debra McCown contributed to this report.