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.