Published on
the San Francisco Chronicle

More People Using Libraries in Tough Times

Julian Guthrie

More people using libraries in tough times Librarian Susan Cohen (right) helps Melvina York with resources at the job and career center at the San Francisco Main Library. (Kurt Rogers / The Chronicle)

SAN FRANCISCO - Nona Nangalama checked out a dozen books from
the San Francisco Public Library this week, saying that in better
economic times, she would have gone to Borders to shop for the items.

The San Francisco resident and unemployed mother of two is using
public libraries even more in these tough times. She is checking out
books instead of buying them, and using the Main Library's job and
career center to begin her search for employment.

"I live right near the Borders South of Market, so that would be
easy for me to go there," Nangalama said, holding 12 books on mastering
algebra and geometry that she had checked out for her daughters. "You
come here and get advice, guidance and books - all for free."

As the economy slides into a recession and families are cutting back
on expenses big and small, libraries in the Bay Area and beyond are
experiencing a big increase in membership and circulation.

But as demand rises, libraries are also seeing a squeeze in funding.
Libraries rely on property taxes, and city coffers everywhere have been
hit by the bad economy. Library officials from San Mateo to Marin
County are beginning to look at ways to cut costs without reducing

"We're trying to be conservative looking at the next fiscal year,"
said Martin Gomez, director of library services for San Mateo County,
which has 12 libraries in 11 cities. "All of our numbers, in terms of
visits and circulation at branch libraries, are up by around 5 percent.
But real estate drives our revenue, and property taxes are down. We're
not looking at layoffs or reduced hours of operation, but we know the
economy is going to take a while to bounce back."

San Francisco's public libraries have seen a 27 percent increase
since July in the number of people seeking library cards, and a 12
percent increase over the same period in the number of materials
checked out. That amounts to 32,000 cards issued and 3.8 million books,
CDs and DVDs checked out.

"We are seeing a significant increase in folks coming into the
library to access our computers, to visit our job and career centers,
and find information on government aid and look up credit ratings on
financial institutions," said Luis Herrera, city librarian for San
Francisco, which has 27 branch libraries and the Main Library at the
Civic Center.

"When the economy is down, library use is up," he said.

More library cards

More Americans have library cards than at any time since 1990, according to the American Library Association.

"Across the country, in every kind of neighborhood and community,
library use, by various measures, is up," said Jim Rettig, president of
the American Library Association, which has 66,000 members and promotes
libraries and librarianship. "At this point, we have an entire
population affected by the recession. People are discovering they can
save money by using libraries, and they can develop their knowledge and
seek employment."

Rettig said the 2 billion items checked out from U.S. libraries this
year is 10 percent more than during the economic downturn in 2001. But
books, DVDs and other material are only part of the story, he said.

"In 73 percent of U.S. communities, the only place a person can get
free Internet access is libraries," Rettig said. "Libraries in areas
hit hard by factory closings are playing an especially important role
in the economic recovery. Most job applications are now submitted

Branches closing

Rettig noted that a number of cities, including San Diego,
Philadelphia, Trenton, N.J., and Mesa, Ariz., are looking at closing
branch libraries. "Public libraries are facing the most severe cutbacks
in decades," Rettig said.

He said the American Library Association will submit a proposal to
Congress early in the new year seeking $100 million in stimulus
funding. The funds would go to enhance services and materials; extend
hours of operation; and offer more classes and workshops focused on
financial literacy, housing counseling and small business development.
He also hopes a portion of the funds would go to renovating and
upgrading facilities.

San Francisco's Herrera said the city's funding for libraries is holding steady.

"We have support through a set-aside in the city's general fund and
property taxes," he said. "But we are going to be very prudent in how
we approach spending. San Francisco is really committed to providing
library services for free." In fact, Herrera said, San Francisco has
been increasing hours and services. In November, seven of the 27
branches opened for an additional day each week. Four libraries are
under renovation. The number of public computers at libraries has
increased by 48 percent in the last two years.

Job seekers

Susan Cohen, a librarian for 15 years who now runs the job and
career center on the fourth floor of the Main Library, is seeing more
people come in asking for help with resumes and job searches. She said
applications for most jobs - from dishwashers to civil service
positions - are submitted online.

She has worked in recent months to increase the number of books on how to find a job, start a small business or change careers.

Standing next to stacks of job-related books, with titles including
"Jobs Directory," "Resume Book," "Your Next Move" and "Hire Me, Inc.,"
Cohen said she's doing what she can to help those who are struggling.

"I chose this job because I thought I could be useful," Cohen said.
"It's as satisfying as it's ever been. But I can feel that times are
tougher. There's a nervousness that people have over the economy. I'm
happy I'm in this position to be helpful."

Popular picks at the library

The most frequently checked-out books, CDs and DVDs at San Francisco public libraries in 2008:

Fiction books

"Lao Fuzi," by Wang Ze

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," by J.K. Rowling

"A Thousand Splendid Suns," by Khaled Hosseini

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union: A Novel," by Michael Chabon

"The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini

Nonfiction books

"The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals," by Michael Pollan

"Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia," by Elizabeth Gilbert

"The World Without Us," by Alan Weisman

"In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto," by Michael Pollan

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life," by Barbara Kingsolver


"Ba qian li lu yun he yue (Eight Thousand Li of Cloud and Moon), part 2"

"The Little Mermaid"

"Ba qian li lu yun he yue, part 1"

"SNL (Saturday Night Live)"

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

Spoken word CDs

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," by J.K. Rowling

"Ying yu jiu bai ju xing; English 900," by Edwin T. Cornelius

"A Thousand Splendid Suns," by Khaled Hosseini

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," by J.K. Rowling

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," by J.K. Rowling

Music CDs

"Loose," Nelly Furtado

"Not Too Late," Norah Jones

"Stevie Wonder: The Definitive Collection"

"Help!" the Beatles

"Love," the Beatles

Source: San Francisco Public Library


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