Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Economy affecting library use

Studies show that when the economic times are hard public library use goes up.

This was confirmed recently when a man renewing his Fauquier County Public Library card at the Warrenton Library told staff he had priced books at Borders and decided he'd borrow them from the library instead of buy them. He was reminded of the library after hearing a report on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. Reporters interviewing librarians across the country found that library usage is up nationwide — and those interviewed believe increased library use is due to the economy.

Fauquier County Public Library found its circulation figures for FY 2008 confirm this trend.

More than 462, 275 items were checked out in Fauquier County last year, the largest number in the library system's history. Nearly 278,900 people visited the county's three libraries, a 4 percent increase over last year, and more than 65,000 questions were asked at the reference desk, up 5 percent.

"I'm just glad we're here for people, " says Library Director Maria Del Rosso, "they turn to us in hard economic times for free entertainment, to search for a job, for free access to computers and to help save money by doing things themselves, like home and auto repairs."
Last year the library presented more than 1,100 programs for children, teens and adults, an 8 percent increase over the previous year, while program attendance increased 10 percent.

This summer the library's reading programs for children and teens reached an all-time high with more than 1,900 children and teens registering for the programs, a 14 percent increase over last year. Summer reading program participants read more books, too. The library's goal of 20,000 books read was far surpassed - the children and teens logged a record-breaking 25,725 titles read between June 1 and Aug. 9.

Use of the library's electronic resources, also known as e-resources, is growing too. Two recently added resources, The Washington Post Historical Online Extra and Newsbank, an online collection of regional and national newspapers, are being heavily used. And e-resources are available 24/7, an added benefit for busy people commuting and juggling family needs and schedules.

A new study by the American Library Association and an organization that researches electronic information sources and their users finds that America’s public libraries are using technology to help children succeed in school and that libraries support lifelong learning. Fauquier County Public Library provides free access to e-resources that would otherwise be out of reach for most families — resources like Britannica Online and World Book Enciclopedia. Online resources for adults run the gamut, too, and include business, genealogy, health, science, literature and legal resources.

"That's why I feel good about what we do," says Del Rosso, "the library is such a wonderful place with so many things to offer to people of all ages. Andrew Carnegie once said 'A library out ranks any other thing a community can do to benefit its people.' It was true then and it's true now."

ALA's study also found that Internet access has become even more important as families struggle economically. All of Fauquier's public libraries provide free Internet access, including wireless. People have always used the library's Internet access to check e-mail, read the news, and do things such as check stocks or do homework, but the county's librarians are seeing increasing numbers of people using the free public Internet access to apply for jobs online, look for housing, and take online classes.

"There's a broad spectrum of people using the Internet at the library," says the library's Public Services Manager Dawn Sowers, "from students doing homework to elderly checking bank statements and staying in touch families."

Sowers notes that most traditional library offerings seem to be more popular than ever, including checking out popular magazines and perusing local papers, such as the Fauquier Times-Democrat, and newspaper giants such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Del Rosso agrees.

"When dollars are tight, newspaper and magazine subscriptions go," Del Rosso says, "The library becomes the place where you can still find these things. Come here any afternoon and you will find people lined up to use the computers, to check out books, to ask reference questions. The library is just bustling."