Library is a key resource in downturn.
The Eugene Public Library has always had its place for lovers of reading, but today's Eugene library is much more than books. It is emerging as a true center of the community, addressing many of the needs the public and businesses face.
Each day, more people are using the library - and changes in our economy will increase use even more in 2009. This became apparent when the city of Eugene released its 2008 Annual Report for Library, Recreation and Cultural Services, which showed a dramatic 17 percent increase in library visits from 2007 to 2008. During 2008, 2.8 million items were checked out of the library, an average of more than 18 items per person, one of the highest circulation rates in the state.
Sadly, because of economic setbacks, many families have been forced to cancel their Internet service at home at a time when we must refocus our economy for a world that is connected electronically. Struggling families must now rely on free computer time at the public library to gain access to the Internet.
Reservations for the library's computers have increased dramatically in the past year as more people without Internet service need access to computers to look for and apply for jobs or to find local businesses to shop efficiently. During 2008, the library's 88 computers provided 15,000 user sessions each month.
Some Eugene residents have also had to cancel newspaper and magazine subscriptions because of financial setbacks. Those people rely on the public library to receive news and information about jobs and the economy.
In February, the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce held a members' meeting at the library to learn about the many library resources for businesses. Library staff gave tours and explained how businesses can obtain all kinds of economic and industry reports without charge - a great tool for a start-up business, a company looking to expand or an enterprise just trying to stay ahead of the competition. They saw the Eugene Public Library as an economic engine for local business.
Library staff also explained how anyone can access many of the essential economic and labor databases from home or the office by just entering their library card number and conducting a search. Every citizen can do the same thing just by using their library card.
Today's Eugene Public Library is more than books on the shelves. It is offering visual art, lectures and comedy presentations, storytelling for children, community meeting rooms, computer access and movie DVDs.
The library also offers free educational programs on topics such as writing a rsum and finding a job, starting a business, preventing identity theft and applying for financial aid and college scholarships.
Some will always think of public libraries as books on shelves and a place to read and relax. But when you visit today's Eugene Public Library you see a vibrant, energetic location with Internet access, children's storytelling, DVDs and a variety of presentations to improve skills and knowledge.
The Eugene Public Library is the heartbeat of downtown. It is the connection between our past and our future. And it is how businesses and the public will get through these economic uncertainties. When the library is busy, it is a sign that people want to stay connected - and that is good sign for the future of Eugene.
Jim Olney is executive director of the Eugene Public Library Foundation.