Libraries across the country are cutting staff and services because of a budget crunch. Librarians say one of the most disturbing things is that the cutbacks are occurring at a time when an increasing number of people need libraries to help them find jobs.
"As the economic times get worse, library use has gone up," said Maurice J. Freedman, president of the American Library Association. "The injustice of it is, here we are providing more service with the same staff, and we're asked to cut our budgets."
Children's and school librarians are being laid off, weekend hours are being cut and new book buying is out of the question.
The problem stems from tight state and local budgets. When cuts need to be made, libraries are hard-pressed to compete against, say, fire and police protection.
In Pennsylvania, Erie's main library will close on Sundays starting in January. Further cuts are expected.
"We're just grinding our teeth over this," library coordinator Mary Rennie said. "Sunday afternoon was a great time for families to come down together."
Late fees at the Denver Public Library double to 20 cents a day in 2003 to help cover a $410,000 budget cut.
Librarians say that in addition to job seekers, the cuts are hurting students as well as homeless people who spend their days in the library.
Library patron Dennis Hunter, 46, who lives outside of Erie, said that if libraries cut back, he can still get onto the Internet. "But a lot of people just don't have the resources to make do," he said.
Elsewhere around the country:
"The annual attendance of 40 million at the city's library system is higher than that of all the city's cultural institutions and professional sports teams combined," Donner said.
"I don't think people understand what libraries do, and their value to a city's economic and cultural health," Addison said. "In a down economy, this is when people use books more."
An American Library Association-sponsored study released this year found that circulation at 18 of the country's largest libraries was up about 8 percent in 2001 over the average of the four previous years.
Freedman, the ALA president, said libraries' funding problems stem from a lack of political clout. At its annual meeting in January in Philadelphia, the ALA will launch a campaign to raise funds and awareness.
"We have to get a message across," vowed Freedman.
By Jason Straziuso