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Dunedin Beacon
Tough economy boosts library's numbers
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Photo by ALEXANDRA CALDWELL
The Dunedin Public Library serves about 1,200 visitors a day.
DUNEDIN – As the economy grew tougher, the community leaned harder on the Dunedin Public Library.

Anne Shepherd, library director, said libraries have quickly become sources of e-government – governmental services that now deal with business online whereas before there was an office people would visit to do business.

This first started with early voting, Shepherd said, which was the first time the library was particularly impacted by large amounts of people coming for nontraditional library services. Then the economy changed.

“In the past, what we saw was people coming in to read their e-mail, print boarding passes, kind of fun or recreational uses of the computers,” Shepherd said. “And now, starting about three years ago, we saw a big change, where people are coming in desperate. Sometimes in tears. ‘I have to apply, I don’t have a job, I want to apply, I don’t know how to use a computer.’ And at first we were kind of shocked, like how could these agencies have done this to these people, but then we decided we couldn’t do anything about that. Instead, what we’ll do is learn how to help these people.”

The library provides lessons and tutoring on how to use a computer, how to apply for jobs and other services like unemployment and food stamps online, and it also keeps lists of local agencies where people can go for housing, food, clothing and other aid, Shepherd said.

“A lot of people are that desperate,” Shepherd said. “They don’t know where to go, so they go to the library and ask, ‘Do you know where I can stay tonight?’ Well, we have resources with our reference staff so we can get them on the right path.”

People now have to apply for unemployment and food stamps online, Shepherd said, but not everyone has a computer, so they use the ones at the library. Before, the library used to see about 2,400 people a month come in to use the computers, she said, but with the economy slumping, it bumped to 4,000 and now 6,000 a month.

“Librarians around the state had to kind of relearn what information we had at our fingertips,” Shepherd said. “Rather than ‘What’s the name of the governor?’ it’s ‘Where can I go for food stamps?’”

Phyllis Gorshe, head of youth services, said she has also seen a rise in library usage due to the economy. Attendance has risen for the storytimes and other free programming. Librarians often direct parents to summer camps with scholarships and other free or cheap activities, she said.

Shepherd said the economy has even driven up the amount of book checkouts. The numbers had flattened out until three years ago when they began rising again, which she contributes directly to the economy and people borrowing books again instead of buying them. Also, many families are no longer able to go on vacations, so the library and activities around town have become their vacations, she said.

Other people go to the library five days a week during work hours and use it as their office, Shepherd said. They may bring a briefcase or their laptop to use the Internet to search for jobs all day because they have been laid off.

The library staff also often act as makeshift counselors, Shepherd said.

“We find that people come to the library and talk to us and talk to the staff, whereas they might not possibly go to another agency,” Shepherd said. “They might feel embarrassed or not be sure what to do, but they’ll come to the library and kind of tell us everything. Sometimes they just need to talk. And our staff, we’re good listeners, and sometimes that’s all they need. We have senior citizens who come into our library, and in a week’s time, we may be the only ones they talk to. And we’ll talk to them, and we know about their children and grandchildren. The staff tries to put a lot of care in what we do.”

The Dunedin library serves about 1,200 visitors a day, or averaging about 30,000 people each month. In 2009, there were 376,705 visitors and 600,951 transactions, shattering Shepherd’s goal for the year.

“In 2008 I set a goal for 2009 that we would break a half a million transactions, and I kind of set this goal for the whole staff,” Shepherd said. “And when we did our final figures for 2009, we had skipped half a million and we’re at 600,000. So that’s 600,951 items that staff had to touch and do something with, so it’s pretty mind boggling.”

The Dunedin library is also one of the few in the county that is still open seven days a week, being open for a total of 66 hours a week. Shepherd said she feels lucky that the Dunedin City Commission has kept it a priority to keep the library open and help protect it from the hard times. It still has taken hits; it used to have a staff of 35, but the economy has reduced it to 26. Overall, though, it has stayed intact.

Summer programming offers numerous free activities for both children and adults that can both help save the wallet and provide fun and entertainment for the whole family. Weekly storytimes for children from birth through preschool age kids will continue throughout the summer, and there are reading incentive programs for both kids and teens, Gorshe said. Kids and teens can fill out sheets that document the books or minutes they read each week and then submit them to the library. Each week there are drawings for gift certificates and prizes for participants.

There also are special youth events throughout the summer that match this year’s theme of Make a Splash, such as Wavy Wednesday LEGO club on July 14; Tropical Thursdays with stories, crafts and a snack; Freestyle Friday special guests, such as Razzmatazz on July 9, Giving Tree Music on July 16, storyteller Kate Adams on July 23 and Cloud 9 Balloons on July 30. There are also Weekend Getaways, with special weekend events such as Make a Splash at the Sprayground on July 17 and Beach Blanket Bingo on July 18.

Teen events include “Legend of Zelda” on July 12, and Building a Better Team on July 19. There also are numerous adult summer reading programs, a Tuesdays at Two film program, adult computer classes and other special programs.

For information about summer programs, visit www.dunedingov.com/home, call 812-4548 or visit the library at 223 Douglas Ave. for a schedule.
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