Checking it out

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, January 7, 2009

As the national economy suffers a downturn, more citizens are taking advantage of library resources across the country. The trend is true as well in Covington County, where local library directors report a noticeable increase in their facilities’ usage.

“We have a lot of people especially coming in to use our Internet,” said Karin Taylor, director of Andalusia Public Library. “We have so many that we now have a waiting list for them to get on. It seems like a large number of them are using them to work on their resumes, or check out online job listings.”

Taylor said the library’s circulation increased about 15 percent in 2008 compared to the previous year. She added that the most significant increase seemed to be in visual media.

“People are coming out and checking out our videos and DVDs more often than they used to,” Taylor said. “We’re definitely getting an increased use of resources.”

Gayle Claire, director of the Opp Public Library, said her building has also seen an increase in patronage, although not as drastic a change as libraries in other states.

“I thought we might see an even larger increase in use,” she said. “But I think Covington County job wise is still in pretty good shape. It doesn’t seem like the economic downturn has hit quite as hard here.”

Claire said the library typically has about 30-40 requests for new library cards each month, a trend that has remained consistent for the past few years. She noted that one of the most popular resources is the library’s stock of periodicals.

“We have a good number people who come in and read the magazines and newspapers,” she said. “I guess you can say we’re their subscription service. That’s perfectly fine, though; that’s why we have (magazines) here.”

Claire also noted an increased use of the library’s computers.

“I know there have been more people in here that we’ve had to assist with posting resumes online and using the Alabama JobLink resources,” she said.

At the Florala Public Library, director Cordelia Waldrop said she has also noticed in influx in visitors.

“There’s definitely more activity as far as patrons coming in,” she said. “A lot of them are using the computers to search for jobs, or just stay in contact with their families or look up things they’re interested in.”

Waldrop said new sign-ups for library cards have not dramatically increased, but she has seen a larger number of people use the facility’s free services.

“We have story time for the little ones from 2-4 every Tuesday,” she said. “They get to hear a story, then they have an activity and snack. We have the summer reading program that’s pretty popular, and there’s always people coming in to read the newspapers and magazines.”

Taylor mentioned that she believes parents are starting to realize the library can also serve as an entertainment outlet for children. She pointed out that every Friday the Andalusia Public Library holds a free storytelling session that often includes other activities like crafts and a puppet show.

“Parents are realizing that their kids are entertained when they come here,” Taylor said.

Also, Taylor said the library has received its new equipment for Gov. Bob Riley’s state-wide project on connecting military families. The project supplies state libraries with computers and web cams, so that military families in the U.S. can communicate with their loved ones who are serving overseas.

“We’ve gotten the iMac computer in and are in the process of setting it up,” she said. “If anyone would like to schedule a time to come up here with their families and friends, we’d be glad to help them out with that.”

Although Taylor welcomes the trend of more resource use at the library, she points out there are concerns that come with that trend.

“One problem is that some of our resources are not being returned to the library,” she said. “If there are more people using the facility, then that means there’s more items not being returned and that costs us money. Plus, we’re being prorated at the same percentage (12 percent) that the schools are.

“So, we’re getting more people to use the library, but we’re also looking at less funding — it’s kind of a double-edged sword.”

Waldrop said that her library also suffers from the problem of patrons not returning materials.

“We even had a free-fine month last June, and we only got two books returned that month,” she said. “People need to know that they can’t just check stuff out and not bring it back. That’s just like stealing.”