UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington under nine presidents and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

January 15, 2009

RECESSION GIVES BOOST TO LIBRARIES

Jim Carlton, Wall Street Journal - A few years ago, public libraries were being written off as goners. The Internet had made them irrelevant, the argument went. But libraries 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. . .

At the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Conn., "it's not unusual for us to have 40 or 50 reserves on a popular book," says spokeswoman Linda Avellar. At the Randolph County Public Library in Asheboro, N.C., a 25% increase in visitors over the past six months from a year ago has been hard on 14-year-old carpeting that officials say needs to be replaced now rather than in six years, as planned.

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 favor 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 videogames. With the recession weighing on them, "people recognize what a great value the public library is," says Jim Rettig, president of the American Library Association in Chicago.

Librarians are turning into job counselors -- and even social workers -- as they have to deal with a sometimes-desperate new class of patrons. "They are frustrated, overwhelmed and thought they would not be job hunting again in their lives," says Jan Perrier, head of reference and adult services at the Roxbury Public Library in Succasunna, N.J. "I had one woman just so overwhelmed she sat in front of the PC and cried."

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