But as much as I like the short lines, I still wish more people recognized the value of a good library. Watch a kid surrounded by books on every side. Their eyes light up. Almost as bright as their mom’s as they duck into the grown up aisle for a couple of minutes.
In the past few months, stories about increased library use are coming in from all over the country.
Librarians would love to see more folded corners in their books and a page full of preschoolers signed up for story times. They’d be thrilled to see more patrons surfing the Internet or spending their lunch hours in the lounge chairs.
The librarians are happy. Really, they are. See, all they have to do is keep their shelves stocked with stacks of new release hardbacks, one of each of Oprah’s book club picks (whether or not they make any kind of sense) endless access to the Twilight series (that one is important), the latest books on CD, and DVD movies ranging from “Aladdin” to “Zorro.”
And they have to do this with a big Catch-22 blocking their way. The do-more-with-less dilemma. More people are using libraries because they are admitting they’re strapped for cash. Less money means fewer miles on the car, fewer trips to the mall and fewer purchases in general. Dinner and a movie both include the word “TV.”
More people are simply staying home, borrowing instead of buying. When they rediscover the magical building that lets them borrow these things for free, it catches their attention.
The demand for the services a library provides is growing, so this is the perfect time for them to generate new interest and attract new people.
The Boston Globe reported record attendance, check-out rates, and Internet use in its city’s libraries. One Boston librarian said, “When the economy is bad library use goes up. That’s pretty clear. It has happened before, and it certainly seems like it’s happening again.”
Across the country in Washington, the Seattle Public Library saw a 21 percent increase in items checked out in a single year. That works out to 1.8 million more items passing through their library system in 2008 than in 2007.
Right here in our local library, circulation grew by more than 1,000 items. Even more noticeable is general library usage for the magazines and newspapers, and a jump in computer access for Internet job searches.
To keep up with the public’s demands, these and other libraries have to find a way to supply the goods and services people expect. And they have to do it with less funding and severe budget crunches of their own. They have to figure out how to meet the public’s demand with fewer resources and thrive through their own growing pains.
I imagine they feel a little like Al Pacino’s character in “Ocean’s Thirteen” when he said: “I don’t want the labor pains, I just want the baby.”
Hopefully, the powers that be, which include both those who determine the level of funding making its way to libraries and the public who benefit from it, make it as painless as possible for libraries to do their thing.