Local libraries: Places of refuge during recession | AspenTimes.com

Local libraries: Places of refuge during recession

ASPEN ” The recession isn’t cratering all business.

Librarians in Aspen and Basalt said this month the facilities are seeing a surge in visits.

“This winter we were just off the charts compared to where we were a year ago,” said Barbara Milnor, assistant director of the Basalt library and a veteran staffer of 21 years. “My guess is most of it is the recession.”

Some people are using computers to polish their resumes and others are adding their names to waiting lists for new books, Milnor said. The demand for the latest and greatest books might jump even more with the town’s independent bookstore, Town Center Booksellers, closing this month.

Pitkin County Library Director Kathy Chandler reported a similar surge of users in the facility in Aspen. She said the number of people visiting the library was up 9 percent in December and January compared to those months the prior winter.

Some of the surge was from an influx of South Americans using computers and other services. Many college-aged students from Brazil, Argentina and other countries came to Aspen for the winter to work. When jobs didn’t materialize for many of them, the library became a popular gathering place.

But Chandler said the number of visitors would have been up even without the South Americans.

“It’s one of the few places you can go and just hang out without spending money,” she said. People can bring in their own computer for a wireless Internet connection.

Using the library is a “no brainer” for people trying to pare household expenses, Chandler added. People can check out DVDs, including children’s releases, from a collection that she called a bit more esoteric than the latest popular releases. There are several computers offering high-speed Internet access. People can thumb through magazines that they might have subscribed to in the past. And for families, taking a youngster to the library and reading a book is an inexpensive but invaluable way to spend time together.

In Basalt, there were 1,000 more visitors in January than for the same month in 2008, Milnor said. Even before the numbers were tabulated, the staff intuitively knew what they would show. “We all knew we were busy,” she said.

The recession also has spurred an unexpected trend. “People want to know if we’re hiring,” Milnor said in an interview in early March. “We’ve seen that just in the last two months.”

The surge during the sour economy didn’t surprise either veteran librarian. They said it is well-known in their field that library use increases during recessions and less severe economic downturns. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that libraries around the country are reporting jumps in visits as high as 65 percent.

Regardless of whether the recession drags on into 2010, Basalt will be better equipped to handle increases in visitors. A new, 21,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in January. That is roughly six times the size of the existing facility.


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