Tighter economic times may bring more visits to the library

October 12, 2008 

  • 68 percent The number of Americans who have a library card, up 5 percent since 2006. That's the highest number of Americans with cards since 1990. 1.3 billion The number of visits at libraries nationally over the past year. 2 billion The number of items checked out over the last year at libraries nationally. Source: The American Library Association

With prices rising and budgets tightening, renting DVDs or buying a hardcover book are becoming luxuries for some families.

That's why more and more people are looking to their local libraries, where they can borrow those things for free, according to the American Library Association.

Locally, when it comes to borrowing materials, it's tough to tell if the increase at local libraries is due to the economy or to population growth. But, Wlodek Zaryczny, Beaufort County library director, said there is a long-standing tradition of increased library use during tough times.

"This is a typical situation. (People) have less money in their pockets," and less

money always makes the libraries' free resources look more attractive, he said.

At the Bluffton library, there has been a sharp increase in membership and member activity in recent years, but branch manager Ann Rosen said that's probably due to population growth in greater Bluffton.

"We haven't seen any increase (from the economic slowdown) because we have such a high level of activity to begin with," Rosen said. Specifically, demand for movies and television shows on DVD has grown significantly.

Hilton Head Island library usage is cyclical, peaking during the tourism season, said Mary Jo Berkes, branch manager, and this year's activity has been about equal to last year's.

But there is one activity that local branches are seeing more often.

"We have a lot of people job hunting who don't have personal computers," said Rosen. "They're doing their resumes here."

The situation is the same at the Hilton Head Island library.

"We tend to see a lot of people coming in to do resumes and things like that," said reference librarian Bratton DeLoach.

The Beaufort library also has seen increased use of the Internet for job searches, said Marlene Coleman, branch manager.

Like the other branches, though, there is no hard data on how much the economy is aiding patronage in Beaufort, but there is anecdotal evidence suggesting some impact.

"Specifically, I've heard people who are checking out say, 'Why should I buy (books) at the book store when I can get them here?' " Coleman said.

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