More people using libraries to save money, find jobs

I have a 4-year-old daughter who likes to watch videos: Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, Elmo and lately, anything with a princess in it. The problem is at $19 or so each, buying the DVDs is insane, especially when she grows tired of them after a month or so.

My solution lately has been to go to our public library, where we can check out videos for a week at a time. We've been checking out books for her for years, but last month, when I first wrote about this topic, I discovered videos at the library. It turns out I'm not the only person making this discovery, as library usage is increasing as people look to save money from buying books and movies, and according to a Wall Street Journal story published Jan. 15, libraries are also attracting more job seekers.

The free Wi-Fi and computers are invaluable in a quiet place away from home to job hunt, with cities with high foreclosure rates seeing an increase in library usage.

I checked with a few librarians where I live, and learned that many patrons have been telling staff at the desk that they are now choosing to borrow books instead of buying them and checking out DVDs instead of renting. Monthly circulation at the library in Danville, CA is up 15% to 30% each month from last year, Seng Lovan, a senior community library manager in Danville, told me in an e-mail.

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"The public computers at Danville are also very well used," Lovan wrote. "We also have a computer docent program where two volunteers regularly offer a combined 6-8 hours each week of one-on-one computer instruction. During the past couple of months, the docent program has been swamped!...Many people are coming in to ask for help about how to submit resumes online or complete online applications because many firms are only accepting online submissions. Several people just want to know how to start online job searches or how to join professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn."

The 1987 and 2001 recessions saw similar jumps in usage, librarians told the Journal. And when the Internet bloomed, many thought libraries would be an ancient part of the past with people staying home on the Internet and surfing. But another recession has brought people back, with many jobless people going to the library as they used to go to the office.

Career books are in great demand at the Morris County Library in Whippany, N.J., the Journal reported. "The shelves are bare," said Lynne Olver, chief librarian. Attendance at "Career Resources Seminars" has jumped from 472 in 2007 to 745 last year.

Others use it as a chance for a break. "This is just a chance for me to get out of my house," Wesley Martin told the Journal while watching a video on a computer in a library in Tracy, CA. Martin, 33, lost his job at a discount store a month ago.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Los Angeles Public Library is experience record use, according to library spokesman Peter Persic, with 12% more visitors during fiscal 2008, which ended June 30, than the previous year. Patrons checked out 17.2 million books, DVDs, CDs and other items, a 10% increase.

"Traditionally, in touch economic times, public libraries experience an upswing in use," Persic said. Unfortunately, it's also true that in tough times, cities and counties cut budgets, and libraries often find themselves on the front lines of this trend, with hours and days cut, in a short-sighted effort to save money.

City budget cutters should look at the numbers before cutting library hours. The San Francisco Public Library has had 12% more items checked out in October than a year earlier, and Chicago's public library system saw a 35% increase in circulation. The New York Public Library saw 11% more print items checked out, although a spokesman said it could be partly explained by extended hours.

At my house, the best thing about checking out DVDs from the library, other than being free, is that they're due back in a week. That's just enough time to watch them without having the Mickey Mouse theme or whatever it is, droning in my head.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job hunt at

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