Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Downside of the Downturn

The Arlington Heights Memorial Library
featured in NYT article.

Numerous articles have been published during the past few months about the boom in library use. More visits. More circulation. More computer use.

An article in today's New York Times, "People in Need Are Filling and Taxing Libraries", describes the stresses on staff that accompany the increased business libraries are experiencing. It also shows how some libraries are coping in these difficult times.

Excerpt: As the national economic crisis has deepened and social services have become casualties of budget cuts, libraries have come to fill a void for more people, particularly job-seekers and those who have fallen on hard times. Libraries across the country are seeing double-digit increases in patronage, often from 10 percent to 30 percent, over previous years.

But in some cities, this new popularity — some would call it overtaxing — is pushing libraries in directions not seen before, with librarians dealing with stresses that go far beyond overdue fines and misshelved books. Many say they feel ill-equipped for the newfound demands of the job, the result of working with anxious and often depressed patrons who say they have nowhere else to go.

The stresses have become so significant here that a therapist will soon be counseling library employees.

“I guess I’m not really used to people with tears in their eyes,” said Rosalie Bork, a reference librarian in Arlington Heights, a well-to-do suburb of Chicago. “It has been unexpectedly stressful. We feel so anxious to help these people, and it’s been so emotional for them.”

Homelessness has been a long-term problem for many libraries, but now librarians are dealing with these types of situations more frequently.
1. People lacking the skills to fill out job applications. (This trend will only accelerate as the availability of forms for employment and social services, to name two major areas, shifts from paper to online.)
2. People wanting to use the Internet but not knowing a thing about it. (Not mentioned in the article is the likelihood that they also have no keyboading skills and have never seen, let alone used, a mouse.)
3. Cubicles (study carrels?) used as sleeping spaces on a much more frequent basis.

Sign of the times? When I visited the Arlington Heights Memorial Library's homepage minutes ago, here's what immediately caught my eye. Meet Security Manager Mike Klean. Security Manager Mike Klean heads up a staff of four trained security personnel who monitor the Library every hour that it is open and enforce the Library´s Rules of Behavior. Get to know Mike and learn what the Library is doing to ensure the best possible experience more...

There is obviously some cause for concern and a need to assure people that the library is a safe place to visit. One Arlington Heights mother is quoted as saying, "I don't like my 16-year-old son to study at the library at night anymore." Although she doesn't like it, but she still allows him to go there.

Arlington Heights has taken some measures to address these new needs.
1. Welcome desk. (Not a regular library feature -- usually a circulation desk takes care of this function -- and this may not be a new feature at Arlington Heights.)
2. Job-search desk.
3. Volunteer professionals to review resumes.
4. Support and networking group for the unemployed.
5. Web site resources

Is there still anyone out there who thinks that libraries are a stress-free environment?

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