published Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

North Georgia: Down economy drives library use up

PDF: Opportunity For All

Ways to save with your library

* Books are free, and borrow time is generally two weeks.

* Magazines are free; current ones generally are browse only, but back issues often can be checked out.

* CDs and tapes can be borrowed and previewed with a check-out.

* DVDs and VHS also are available for check-out; new and popular titles may have a small borrow fee.

* Some college course books are available for check out.

* Borrow a travel guide for your vacation rather than buying one.

* Computer use is free, but you might need to make an appointment to reserve one; take your own paper and printing might be free.

* Check out an exercise tape before signing up for an expensive exercise course.

* Entertain video gamers with borrowed games before spending for one you or the kids don't really like.

Source: Associatedcontent.com

Study findings

* 40 percent of library computer users (about 30 million) received help with career needs.

-- Of those, 75 percent searched for a job.

-- Half filled out an online application or submitted a resume.

* 37 percent focused on health issues.

-- Of those, 82 percent logged on to learn about a disease or illness.

-- A third sought out doctors or health care providers, and half followed up by making appointments for care.

* 42 percent received help with educational needs.

-- Of those, 37 percent (about 12 million students) completed homework on a library computer.

Source: Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries.

In the Trenton, Ga., branch of the Dade County Library, cousins Sandi and Ray Veal sit in front of a computer, combing through a jobs site.

"I'm out of work and my unemployment has run out," said Ray Veal, 55. "I used to have Internet at home, but I can't afford it now. Most of these jobs, you can't apply any way but online. I'm looking for basically anything in manufacturing."

His story is not unusual.

With the economy tanking, library staffs all over the country are reporting their visitation and computer usage numbers are skyrocketing as people search for jobs. In addition, as money gets tight, people are borrowing books and videos rather than buying or renting them.

In Dade County, job hunting is one of the primary uses for computers, said Lecia Eubanks, director of North Georgia's Cherokee Regional Library System.

"Our staff is constantly being asked to assist with resumes, and keep a ready listing of Internet sites for people to do job searches," she said.

A report released last week states the nation's library role as a technology resource and training center has exploded since 1996, when only 28 percent libraries offered visitors access to the Internet.

"As the nation struggled through a historic recession, nearly one-third of the U.S. population over the age of 14 used library Internet computers," states the report, "Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries."

The study, using nearly 50,000 surveys, was conducted by the University of Washington Information School and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

In Dade County, overall Internet use is up 40 percent over the past two years, Ms. Eubanks said, and computer visits aren't the only impact of the poor economy.

"We've issued 1,811 new library cards in Dade County. That's up 30 percent over the past two years," she said.

Increases also have occurred in the region's other libraries in Walker County at the Chickamauga, LaFayette and Rossville branches, according to officials.

Use up, money down

  • photo
    Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Kara Grooms, left, sits next to Patrick Hook as she uses one of the public computers at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Library to help in her job search.

But the increase library use is colliding with what Ms. Eubanks calls "the perfect storm" of budget cuts from almost all library funding agencies.

"Last year, we planned our budget as if we would receive no increases, and this year I'm wondering if we should have planned for cuts," she said, noting that library entry positions pay only 75 cents above the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

"If we don't provide these services (public computers, book borrowing) who will?" she asked. "Most employers now even put W4's (tax forms) online now and give you PIN number and tell you to print off your own tax forms. If you don't have a computer or Internet, what do you do?"

She said some argue that schools have computers, but schools don't offer them to the public, and they're closed all summer.

Tennessee usage

Kara Grooms works intently at one of the computers on the main floor at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library.

"My computer at home is busted, and I'm here working on my resume to polish it up," said the 23-year-old Chattanoogan.

Across the room, native Chattanoogan Arlease Foy is combing through a jobs site to find an administrative position in the Scenic City.

"I'm working now in Atlanta, but my Mom is here and she's ill," she said. "It's stressful for me to be driving back and forth."

In Bradley County, Tenn., Cleveland Library Director Andy Hunt said his library is mirroring those all over the country where staffs are reporting their visitation and computer use numbers are skyrocketing as people search for jobs and turn to borrowing books and videos rather than buying or renting them.

"Our (library) traffic has gone through the roof. We had 2,000 more visits in February compared to a year ago," he said.

Chattanooga library numbers are far more startling.

Computer Internet use alone at the Chattanooga library increased by a whopping 3,268 connections daily. Last year, the daily connections totaled 105,155, said library spokeswoman Andrea Davis. This year daily numbers tally 108,423. For the entire month of February, library computer connections were well over 3 million.

"We know it is primarily drive by the economy," Ms. Davis said.

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about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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April 6, 2010 at 6:15 a.m.
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