Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old student at Southwestern Michigan College, surfs the Internet in a packed Niles District Library computer lab on Monday. The 18-station lab in the lower level of the library had people waiting to use the computers. The library has reported increases in circulation in recent years with downturn of the economy. (Daily Star Photo/AARON MUELLER)
Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old student at Southwestern Michigan College, surfs the Internet in a packed Niles District Library computer lab on Monday. The 18-station lab in the lower level of the library had people waiting to use the computers. The library has reported increases in circulation in recent years with downturn of the economy. (Daily Star Photo/AARON MUELLER)

Archived Story

Americans return to libraries in down economy

Published 10:22am Tuesday, December 29, 2009

By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star

With the downturn of the economy in recent years, more Americans are turning to their local libraries for low-cost or free entertainment, according to a study done by the Library Research Center at the University of Illinois.

The study, which looked at 18 of the nation’s biggest libraries, determined there is a relationship between library use and economic cycle.

Another study for the American Library Association reported that this fiscal year Americans visited libraries 1.4 billion times and checked out more than 2 billion items, an increase of more than 10 percent.

The Niles Library seems to be no different.

Niles District Library Director Nancy Studebaker reported an increase in circulation and 1,900 new cardholders in the 2009 fiscal year, which ended in September.

Circulation increased 1.6 percent this fiscal year. Although this may seem small, Studebaker says to take a look at the big picture. The total circulation has increased by more about 30,000 since fiscal year 2002.

The library also reported a record-breaking month for circulation in June, only to be broken again in July with 19,319 items.

Circulation numbers for early this fiscal year look good as well with a 5.8 percent increase compared to this time last year.

“The American Library Association that tracks those types of things shows a long history that when the economy goes down, library usage goes up,” Studebaker said. “People are looking for things that are free to do, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing and expect for that to continue for a while probably.”

The use of free Internet in the library also is popular, said Studebaker.

Although the library’s public computer usage is down 6 percent, it had to increase its Internet bandwidth from three megabytes to 11 megabytes due to the number of people using the library’s free wi-fi service.

“It’s not unusual to walk through and see five or six people on laptops,” Studebaker said, in addition to a full computer lab.

A few months ago, the library reintroduced interlibrary loan. And despite very little publicity, it has “taken off,” according to Studebaker. About 300 items a month are loaned to and borrowed from the library.

Attendance in children’s programs also saw a dramatic increase of over 30 percent in the 2009 fiscal year.

Editor's Picks