You’ve got a computer. Everyone you know has a computer. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a home without a computer.
But the man we recently met at the Pickens County Library doing schoolwork on one of their PCs doesn’t have one. And neither do a lot more people than you would think – especially those with lower incomes who use the library’s Internet access for tasks like job searches, online school, homework and browsing the web.
Without last week’s budget increase from the county, requested by the library’s board of trustees, Pickens’ branch would have been forced to trim staff and hours – and these hours, we imagine, would have been the later evening or weekend hours used the most by working adults and students.
Astonishingly this budget increase (a modest $4,850) still leaves the library with zero dollars for materials in fiscal year 2016, down from over $13,000 in 2012. A zero dollar materials budget means ALL money for new books, new audio books, etc. must come from grants, donations from individuals or businesses, or help from Friends of the Pickens Library, the 501c3 that supports our branch through fundraisers and other methods.
But some people argue that libraries are outdated, on track to becoming irrelevant, dusty tomes languishing on the back shelf of a life now ruled by technology. We couldn’t disagree more, and statistics from our local branch clearly show that the library here is used heavily in terms of both circulation and PC/Internet access –not to mention the wide array of other services they offer.
Data from FY 2014 shows general attendance at Pickens’ library for that 12–month period at 76,638 (a clicker at the door counts people as they enter the building). This averages 1,474 times a week patrons walked in the doors, or an average of 210 times a day some one entered the building.
For circulation, a total of 96,337 items were checked out during that same timeframe. This number includes 46,543 adult books; 37,331 juvenile/young adult books; 6,398 audio books; 2,420 videos/DVDs; and 1,985 eBooks with total 2014 borrowers for the year at 12,964.
The PC/Internet was used 20,287 times. Their wireless connection was utilized 4,091 times. Other library usage included 41 adult programs serving 417 people; 104 children’s programs serving 1,566 kids; the meeting room was used by 2,372 people and the study room was used 765 times. There were nearly 39,000 copies made during the same year.
To us, these numbers are significant.
Who these people are becomes clearer if you look at a 2013 Pew Research Center study that found “adults who live in lower-income households, and adults with lower levels of educational attainment are more likely than other groups to say [library] services are ‘very important.’” An earlier University of Washington study of library patrons found that low-income families use library computer disproportionately more than other segments of the population.
But a recent Jasper Lion’s Club meeting highlighted another important aspect of libraries --- the fact that they foster brighter futures. During Women’s History Month, for example, successful women from Pickens County were honored by the Lions, and we don’t think it’s a mistake many of them had a connection to the library either through family or other avenues.
Public libraries are a crucial tool for many people in our community and we simply can’t afford to have their hours cut or have them operating with a weak materials budget. It’s a lifeline for many, providing free resources to people who need them. Whether or not you personally use the library shouldn’t matter – they deserve your support if you can manage it. Make a donation. Become a member of Friends of the Pickens Library. Go in and see what materials your library uses and donate those because a healthy library is crucial for a healthy community.
Learn more about Friends of the Pickens Library and how to become a member at friendsofpickenslibrary.org. You can also go visit the library a get a brochure during their regular hours, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.