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Public turns to libraries during economic downturns

The silver lining on the economic thundercloud can be found in a most unlikely location: your local library. With empty pockets, people are turning to take advantage of previously under-exploited public resources.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), historically, when the economy suffers, people turn to the library. Elizabeth Loftus, interim executive director for the Onondaga County Public Library, remarked on a significant increase in computer use and hits to the OCPL web site, onlib.org, up 27 percent over the same period last year. She said the numbers are reflections of the economy -- more people are using the library's free services to job hunt, process applications and build resumes.

Additionally, OCPL has seen a 5 percent increase in people applying for library cards between October 2007 and July 2008, and library patronage had climbed 12 percent over the last year at the systems largest branch, the Galleries in downtown Syracuse alone.

How are smaller libraries faring?

"July was the highest circulation we've ever had," said Bob Brown, library director for Minoa Library, the smallest in Onondaga County serving a community of 3,200 with some overlap from neighboring communities. Even August, traditionally a slow month, saw a high of 4,800 books and other media in circulation. Brown said he's noticed this trend since June.

The libraries in Fayetteville, Manlius, DeWitt and East Syracuse have also seen spikes in circulation, computer usage and program attendance.

"We had more children than ever register for the summer reading program," said Mary DePietro, director for the East Syracuse Free Library. "It was very well attended."

Susan Reckhow, director at DeWitt Community Library, said the number of items checked out in September 2008 totaled almost 32,000 -- a 24 percent increase over last year.

"This may be a combination of the economic downturn and our new location," she said.

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