For the Books

In a trend that’s long overdue, more people are heading to their local libraries
Illustration by James Yang

The economic downturn has stirred an uptick in library use. Foot traffic, event attendance, book circulation, and Internet use are all on the rise, library administrators say.

Though most libraries’ memberships haven’t risen dramatically, people are turning to their local lender for DVDs, music, and books, as a free or low-cost option to buying bestsellers and renting movies.

Metro Detroiters are doing more than borrowing. Librarians say a significant number of unemployed patrons are accessing their computers and other job-search resources. Because of an increased demand for career aids, Birmingham’s Baldwin Library is providing unemployment information and Internet services for people in need.

Libraries are also getting fresh attention for the public space they provide. Larry Neal, director of the Clinton-Macomb Library, says his concert and program attendance has increased by 22 percent in the past year.

Other administrators are encouraging patrons to use libraries as sites for meetings, both professional and casual.

“I see the public library as dual access,” says Randolph Call, assistant director of technical services for the Detroit Public Library System. “It can be facts, research, and checking out books, but we also provide community space.”

The resurgence of the public library as a public square, so to speak, brings community members together. Although the underlying reason for increased library use might be negative, once patrons step back inside, they may want to linger and begin participating in their communities again.

Of course, libraries are, first and foremost, repositories of information material and services. And that’s likely to continue, library professionals say. Because of evolving technology, people are reading more, says Maria Gonzalez, an assistant professor in Wayne State University’s Library and Information Science Program.

“Viable libraries continually alter the mix of their collections, services, and programs to meet the needs and demands of the community they serve,” Gonzalez says. “It pretty much sums up what libraries always do — adopt, adapt, and lead.”