Chicago Sun-Times
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More people check out their libraries

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Richard E. Combs, onetime chief librarian at the Northbrook and Gary public libraries and head of the Chicago Public Library's Cultural Center, used to call libraries, "the people's university."

Combs meant that even for people who didn't have the time or money to study on a campus, libraries offered a great opportunity for learning.

On Tuesday, Chicago Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey told us that libraries in the metropolitan region are busier than ever.

"As the economy has become more and more difficult, more and more people are coming to public libraries, and certainly we are seeing that in Chicago," Dempsey said.

And it's not just for books. Last year, the Chicago Public Library provided 3.8 million free one-hour Internet sessions. In all, the library served more than 12 million people.

That was last year. This year, Chicago library use was up 6 percent in January over a year earlier, Dempsey said.

"We are seeing higher numbers already," she said.

Sarah Long, executive director of the North Suburban Library System, told us people are using libraries "in record numbers."

Patrons are saving money by checking out books instead of buying them, unemployed people are using library resources to help in their job searches. Children are showing up to do their homework. A 2009 American Libraries Association report found 76 percent of Americans had visited their public library in the past year compared with 65 percent a year earlier.

For years, some people have predicted that the library's importance to a community would wane as more people got their information electronically.

Someone forgot to tell the libraries - and their patrons.

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A victory for the printed word, for literacy; and an important victory for books, authors and readers. This comes as very good news at a time when the major book store chains are closing stores and the impact is being felt at mid-sized trade publishers who are cutting back the number of titles they issue and in some cases, a few, are being forced out of business. Industry troubles and the electronic publishing revolution notwithstanding, I'd like to believe that the public still values the pleasure of perusing the stacks of old and new books at the library, and taking advantage of one of the few free public services left to us today. My congratulations to Mary Dempsey and her staff for their hard work and dedication to making the Chicago Public Library a successful and treasured resource; not just a repository for books, but for promoting authors and providing an active community center and public forum for the exchange of ideas and viewpoints.

I would second everything Mr. Lindberg said but, in keeping with my grumpy nature, would add a complaint. Sadly, Chicago libraries have been forced to cut hours and staff because of the city's budget woes. The branch I used to visit near Belmont and Paulina steadily lost staffers and started opening at 10 a.m. instead of 9 and closing at 7 p.m. instead of 9. Readers and writers, let city hall hear from you. And more kudos to Ms. Dempsey and her staff for providing good service despite adversity.

I agree in large measure with Mr. Merriner. It is truly a shame that when 1) libraries are experiencing more users; 2) economics dictate that more people need to use libraries rather than purchase books, CD's, and DVD's; and 3) more underserved populations want to access computer equipment, Chicago's libraries have reduced their hours preventing convenient access. Certainly short-sightedness on someone's part. I, too, have been thankful for the dedication of the library staff for all the things they do manage to do with limited resources.

Libraries across the country are losing funding. People overlook the role of public libraries in helping create jobs. In my personal experience as consultant, I have used the research facilities of my local library for a wide variety of projects, ranging from naming new products and even a new auto insurance company to developing content for a series of annual publications. These 192-page volumes grew to a print run of a million copies, supporting jobs for messengers, designers, illustrators, printers, paper mill workers–all the work back through the supply chain to loggers. Currently, this project would embrace computer workers too.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Frisbie published on February 17, 2010 2:39 PM.

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