Library use is up as book sales decline

kward1@herald-leader.comJanuary 25, 2009 

  • If you go

    What: The Lexington Public Library offers assistance with résumé preparation and online job applications.

    When: From 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays at Eagle Creek Branch and from 3 to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, beginning Feb. 2, at Central Library.

  • By the numbers

    The Lexington Public Library experienced increases in several of its services last month, as compared to December 2007.

    Circulation: 9.62 percent increase

    Public computer usage: 19.72 percent increase

    Adult program attendance: 25.81 percent increase

    Meeting room usage: 41.29 percent increase

    Source: Lexington Public Library

Business might be sluggish for retailers, but it's booming at area libraries.

"We have been extremely busy," said Karen Kasacavage, director of the Woodford County Library. "I'll have 40 people show up for an adult program, and it used to be five."

She thinks thinner wallets might have something to do with that.

"They're doing things that are not as costly," she said of library patrons. "Maybe instead of going to the movies or going to the mall, they're going to the library."

Circulation was up more than 7 percent for the first half of this fiscal year at the Paris-Bourbon County Public Library and 8 percent at the Scott County Public Library. Some say that could be because people who normally buy books are doing so less frequently.

Book sales were down 20.1 percent in October, the most recent month reported by the Association of American Publishers.

On Saturday afternoon, every computer was in use at the Eagle Creek branch of the Lexington Public Library. The checkout counter was bustling with patrons checking out books, music and movies.

Gayle Haynes said she began checking out DVDs from the library about a year ago. Haynes said she usually picks up three or four a week. Sometimes the titles she selects are free; others cost $1 a night. "That's a lot less expensive than the video store," she said.

Across the aisle, Michael Eades and his 9-year-old daughter, Michaela, were picking out jazz CDs so Michaela could practice her swing dance moves.

"I like to catch up on music that I won't run out and buy," Michael Eades said, adding that the family also checks out books frequently. "Nobody likes to spend $20 on a novel when you're only going to read it once."

Most libraries now have free wireless Internet service, which also seems to be especially popular these days.

"It's a monthly expense," said Earlene Arnett, director of the Scott County library. "How much can you save by cutting that?"

Several library directors said they're seeing many more patrons for whom library usage is more than just entertainment.

"A lot of people are looking for jobs right now," said Mark Adler, director of the Paris-Bourbon County Public Library.

For those who don't have computers at home, the library becomes the place for online job-hunting or filing for unemployment benefits. Often, people are lined up waiting for a computer to become available at the Paris library, Adler said.

The same is true at the Lexington Public Library, where a computerized system lets customers sign in and know when a computer will be available.

"Most of the time, they're either full or near full," said Bobby Webb, assistant manager at the Eagle Creek branch. "We have a lot of people who have been coming in to either work on their résumé or fill out job applications online."

On Thursday nights, the Eagle Creek branch offers one-on-one help with résumé writing and online job applications. The service has become so popular, it is being added at the Central Library.

Bob Callen, the librarian overseeing the program at Central Library, said the effort is aimed at providing help to people when they need it most. "You've been laid off. You feel somehow insufficient and you need to create a document. Maybe you are not great with a computer. It is intimidating," he said. "We definitely want to reduce that fear and frustration factor of having to go it alone. A lot of it is about confidence."

Five people showed up for assistance at Eagle Creek last Thursday. Among them was Earl Hill, who lost his job as a courier in October when his company was bought out. "I didn't know the first thing about filling a résumé out," he said. "It's been great."

Arnett, of the Scott County library, said she's also seeing more people who need those kinds of services, and the library is looking for ways to help. She said the library's free computer classes on topics such as setting up an e-mail account, creating documents in Microsoft Word and using the Internet are already extremely busy.

Doug Tattershall, media relations coordinator for the Lexington Public Library, said such classes could be getting more traffic as people look to brush up on their skills to make themselves more attractive to potential employers.

"It's not just entertainment, but it's job hunting," he said. "It's becoming much more important."

Herald-Leader columnist Merlene Davis contributed to this report.

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