C-U sees increase in library usage

Even in tough economic times, there is always one place people can go for free entertainment and information – the library.

Both the Champaign Public Library and the Urbana Free Library have seen increases in usage of their facilities.

The Champaign Public Library, 200 W. Green St., moved into a new building complete with the latest computers and facilities in January 2008.

“Our business, since we’ve opened in the new building, has been increasing about 30 percent per month,” said Marsha Grove, director of the Champaign Public Library. “It would be impossible for me to tell you that it’s all just because of the new building and people love coming here or it has something to do with the economy. I’m sure it’s a little bit of both here in the last few months.”

Still, the Champaign Public Library averages 2,000 people per day in the new building, compared to 1,600 per day in the old. Grove said patrons can be seen waiting outside the library at 9 a.m., when it opens every day.

“I think we’re starting to see more people who are looking for more things to do that are inexpensive, and of course, coming to the public library is free,” she said.

Grove said more young families can be seen frequenting the library to use the facilities. Circulation of children’s materials has increased by 40 percent.

She said there is also an increase in computer usage. There are 87 public computers in the library, and there can be as many as 400 uses per day.

Grove said more people who have lost jobs are job hunting and filling out applications on the library’s computers.

Similarly, the Urbana Free Library, 210 W. Green St., has seen a surge in computer usage since the economic downturn.

Debra Lissak, executive director of the Urbana Free Library, said there was about a 20 percent increase in computer usage last September compared to September 2007. In the following months, there has been a steady increase of about 10 percent.

“People are coming in because they need to use online services for a lot of jobs,” Lissak said. “For people who’ve been laid off, a lot of new employers require online job applications, so we’re seeing that the people who come into the lab need help doing online job applications.”

She said there has also been an increase in people coming to the library for help with resumes and setting up e-mail accounts.

Lissak said the overall number of library visits has remained level despite national increases. She said it could be because the new Champaign Public Library building opened or because of the limited parking available at the Urbana Free Library.

However, she said she thinks the increased library usage trend will continue.

“Generally, when times get tough for people economically, they start looking at what they can do without or what they can do more cheaply,” she said. “People have things they can go to the library to do instead of an alternative that might cost money.”

Lisa Hinchliffe, head of the University’s Undergraduate Library, said she has not seen any large spike in usage since the economy has taken a dip. She said the Undergraduate Library already had high usage of its resources.

“Because students already did not have a lot of money, they were already using our free and low cost services,” she added.

She said an academic library, such as the Undergraduate Library, is more prone to the “ebb and flow of the semester” rather than what is going on in the community economically.

“Students are in a different phase of their life than people who have lost their jobs,” Hinchliffe said. “We’ve already been being used at capacity, and we continue to be used at capacity. Even when the economy was better, we were being used very heavily.”