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Libraries feel economic pressure


By Laurel Morales

Flagstaff, AZ – During these hard times more and more people are visiting their local library. In northern Arizona the number of books and DVDs checked out is way up. And many unemployed are job hunting, working on resumes and filling out applications on library computers. But libraries aren't immune to budget problems. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales examines how northern Arizona libraries are handling the stress.

That was funny! Oh there's Parker and Cassidy. Hi guys!

It's story time at Flagstaff's downtown library. Children's librarian Gail Reed greets a herd of toddlers as they hold out their eager hands for a letter-of-the-day stamp.

I'm waiting for the stamps. Ok wait right here kiddos and she'll be right with you.

Reed says whether it's preschoolers or the after school crowd, the kids section is busy all day long now.

FINNEY: This is the Bill and Melinda Gates computer lab

The computer lab is also busy. Computer use is up more than 25 percent over this time last year. Reference librarian Judy Finney says she often feels like a job counselor.

FINNEY: We've always provided assistance in resume building job searching. We have helped people fill out applications but we're seeing a lot more people coming thru the doors with those kinds of requests. I look at people's resumes probably on a daily basis.

AMBY: Crossfade to circulation

Over at the circulation desk there's a line at the self check out machine. The number of checked out books and DVDs is up more than 20 percent. Sometimes there are as many as 35 people on the wait list for a popular item. Finney says weekday traffic is up, but Saturdays are especially busy.

FINNEY: I worked probably the busiest Saturday of my life about two weekends ago. Our door count was huge. It was just unbelievably busy.

Finney says people are cutting back on expenses. They're dropping their Internet access at home and getting online at a library computer. And instead of paying a couple bucks to rent a DVD they're checking out the library's movie selection. Finney says even their free cultural events have seen higher turn outs.

FINNEY: We have standing room only at those events it's been really wonderful to have that support. It could reflect that people are interested in going to cultural programming that's free. People are finding ways to save money on their educational and entertainment budgets

Cultural events like these are grant funded. The rest of the library's resources, services and staff are funded by the city and county. The city manager has asked every department to cut its budget by 19 percent. In mid February the council will decide what stays and what goes.

The Prescott Public Library has also been buzzing with activity. Director Toni Kaus says they're experiencing their busiest year ever. On average one person enters the building every 30 seconds.

KAUS: They've dropped subscriptions to magazines and say, well I can read that at the library.' Instead of going to Barnes and Noble or Costco to buy a book they say well I can wait a little while. That doesn't help the sales tax locally. It really does help people save money.

Kaus explains the sales tax is important because that's where 80 percent of the library's budget comes from. She's glad people are returning to their libraries but it could pose a problem in the future.

KAUS: If we did have to cut back more maybe we could end up closing on Sundays we could end up closing on Mondays. It really depends on sales tax numbers and how things progress in this first quarter. At this point it's unclear what will happen next.

Kaus doesn't seem too concerned. She was recently able to convince the Prescott city council to spend 60-thousand dollars on new computers.

The Sedona Public Library has also seen increased use of its resources. But it's funded a bit differently. They receive funding from the city, both Coconino and Yavapai counties as well as private donors.

Director David Keeber says that the patrons have a great sense of pride and ownership in their library.

KEEBER: I think Sedona Public Library proves the fact that a public/private partnership is the best.

The books, computers and the building are all funded privately. The operational expenses and payroll come from the city and two counties that Sedona straddles.

KEEBER: For a long time libraries were seen as this warm fuzzy something we should be doing but it's not an essential service. But the fact of the matter is as times get tough and people have less and less discretionary income they'll look to their library.

The Sedona Public Library has more than 600 programs on their calendar this year alone - everything from baby sign language classes to the league of women voter forums.

KEEBER: The very fact that our society believes that libraries are important and created them at the onset is one of the key components of our democracy people being able to be informed as well as come together in a non-agendized neutral ground.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales.