Libraries Shine In Tough Economic Times

With the economy slowing, many Americans are doing research in the public library. Boyd County, Ky., Library Director Debbie Cosper says public-use computers are always full and people are checking out books rather than buying them.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Earlier this summer, we asked you to tell us how the downward economy is affecting your daily life. A number of you e-mailed to say that among other things, you were buying fewer books and going to the library more, which made us wonder if libraries are noticing a surge in activity. And it didn't take long for us to find librarians across the country who've seen a big jump - from Yazoo City, Mississippi to Indian Prairie, Illinois to Ashland, Kentucky.

Debbie Cosper is the library director for Boyd County Public Libraries there. We reached her at the library reference desk. She said there's been a 13 percent increase this year in items checked out. And that's just one of several signs of increased activity.

DEBBIE COSPER: Our public- use computers are always full. Our programming has increased. It's been really - I'm sorry to see that the economy is down so that we can be useful, but I'm really glad we're here so we can help people. It's very wonderful to be in this position.

BLOCK: Have you heard from people coming in who've explained to you why they're there when maybe they hadn't come before, or why they're on the computer now and they weren't before?

COSPER: Well, down at the circulation desk just few weeks ago, and I had somebody say, I'm coming to check out now. I can't afford to buy the book. She said, I used to belong to a book club and we'd sent a book a month, she says, I can't afford it. So we come in here and we check out. And she says, you have everything.

BLOCK: Are you finding people coming in to sign up for library cards who haven't had them before?

COSPER: We get a lot of people who haven't had cards, but we're getting a lot of people who say, I haven't used my card in a long time, can I still use it? And that's what's really needed, to see people coming back. Do you know, I actually have a person here who needs reference help.

BLOCK: Oh, you better go take care of him or her.

COSPER: Hang on just a second.

It'll be about a 30-minute wait. You just sign up right here (unintelligible).

We just had somebody come in and wanted to use the computer.

BLOCK: Ah, and you said a 30-minute wait?

COSPER: Yeah. It happens down here a lot.

BLOCK: You know, I would think that one thing people might do away with really quickly, if they're seeing their home finances change, they might say, you know, that newspaper we used to get, we're not going to get that anymore. The magazine subscription, we're going to let that lapse. So you're seeing more people coming in to read papers and magazines?

COSPER: It's amazing. That's almost a daily thing. In fact, I was talking to my reference supervisor just the other day and she said they are lining up at the door at nine o'clock to read the papers. It's amazing. We had one gentleman come in - and this is just certainly a tragic story out of all of this, he says, we had to sell all our electronic equipment, get off all of our subscriptions to cable, to the Internet. We can't afford it. I go to a library, I can use it for free, and that's what we're doing.

BLOCK: Hmm. Are you seeing, over the summer, more kids coming to the library? I know a lot of libraries offer programs at the library for kids. Are you seeing that too?

COSPER: Oh, yeah. Our summer reading program - we have weekly programs where the kids actually come and have stories read and, you know, craft and activities - have increased about 25 percent. Parents are bringing them here because they can do something here, where their kids (unintelligible) and play or interact. It's really neat to see even the smaller branches getting people in like crazy.

BLOCK: And what are you hearing about why that is?

COSPER: Because it's free. Because they can walk to the library, because it doesn't require travel a long way to come, because it's free. That's what we hear a lot.

BLOCK: Well, Debbie Cosper, I'm sure you have a lot of people who need your attention on a busy day at the library, so we're going to let you go. Thanks so much.

COSPER: Oh, I've really enjoyed it.

BLOCK: Debbie Cosper is library director for the Boyd County Public Libraries in Ashland, Kentucky.

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