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Recession Means Increased Library Business

February 20, 1992

CHICAGO (AP) _ Libraries are seeing a surge in business as they become havens for the unemployed.

″In hard economic times, library use always goes up,″ observed Patricia Glass Schuman, president of the Chicago-based American Library Association.

″We’ve heard this from libraries across the country,″ she added in a telephone interview from her New York office. ″People are using libraries to look for jobs. It’s also a form of entertainment. When they can’t afford to go to movies, they go to a library and get a video or a book.″

Libraries say jobless patrons are emptying shelves of career-guide books and raiding newspaper bins for help-wanted ads. John Berry III, editor in chief of the New York-based Library Journal, said it is reminiscent of the Great Depression.

″People who are out of work have more time on their hands,″ he said.

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time for libraries, which are facing an economic crisis of their own.

According to an ALA report released in November, a recent survey by the Association of Research Libraries found that most member libraries were working with budget cuts of 1 percent to 5 percent in 1991 and were expecting 5 percent to 10 percent cuts in 1992.

″They’re closing branches. They’re cutting back on hours. They’re freezing acquisitions of new materials,″ Schuman said.

In New York, three-quarters of the Public Library’s 82 branches are closed three or more days per week.

In Chicago, where the world’s largest public library opened last year, proposed city budget cuts would force the Chicago Public Library to reduce hours at 80 branches and lay off more than 100 security, maintenance and administration personnel, according to the ALA.

Despite the fiscal problems, some libraries are expanding services to meet the needs of the unemployed. For instance, Schuman said the library in Nassau County, N.Y., offers a job-listing telephone service.

Each Tuesday, the Skokie Public Library in suburban Chicago turns one room into an Employment Resource Center and places job listings and other career information there.

″Almost anytime you look in the room, there are anywhere from four to 10 people,″ said Tom Kern, reference-service coordinator. ″We’re getting accountants who have worked at their jobs for 10 or 20 years and have just gotten laid off and are looking for leads.″

Skokie’s reference librarian helps people with resumes. He also does 30- minute interviews to help people plan their job-information searches.

The Champaign Public Library in central Illinois clips classified ads from about 50 Sunday newspapers. It also provides books on such topics as resume- writing and career opportunities.

″In the last year and a half, we’ve seen more use of these materials, I would say due in part to the recession,″ said Cele Gaines, head of the library’s adult services.

″They’re not doing it much for amusement. It looks like real information- seeking,″ said Leigh Estabrook, dean of the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

At the suburban Orland Park Public Library, Ruth Kramer said people in their mid-40s are increasingly looking for materials like help-wanted ads and the National Ad Search, a publication containing ads from more than 200 newspapers.

″Our circulation at this library has increased 25 percent in the past year,″ she said. The library has increased its staff to accommodate the extra work.

At Chicago’s Harold Washington Library Center on Thursday, Carmen Coburn, 33, was checking classified ads from Southern newspapers in the hopes of finding both a new home and a job. Coburn, an unemployed mother of two girls and former fourth-grade teacher, said she had spent two days checking papers from Texas, Florida and Virginia.

″My first goal is to get an entry-level management job. But I’ll take anything to get on my feet,″ said Coburn, a former tactical communications officer in the Army.

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