“Libraries offer resources often unavailable elsewhere during an economic recovery that finds about 12 million Americans unemployed and millions more underemployed,” according to the American Library Association’s 2013 State of America’s Libraries report. “Three-fourths of public libraries offer software and other resources to help patrons create resumes and employment materials, and library staff helps patrons complete online job applications.”
That’s definitely the case at the six municipal libraries in this area.
“Technology has brought a lot of traffic into the library – computers and wifi,” said Danny Stewart, director of the Pell City Public Library. “We want to do anything we can do to benefit the public and help serve them. Some don’t know anything about computers so you have to help them; others have some expertise and just want to be left alone to do their work.”
In Talladega, library director Vicki Harkins said the economy definitely has an effect.
“People are looking for ways to save money. Some have started budgets or are trying to figure out ways to cut costs, and technology continues to become more important. When you apply for a job nowadays, you almost always have to do it online. A lot of people can’t afford Internet service or computers at home, or printers and ink. So a lot of people are coming in to work on their resumes and applications.”
Employment and unemployment are also the topics of many patrons of the Munford Public Library, said Director Jenny Trickett.
“We have five desktop computers and two laptops. We see people coming in doing job searches and updating their resumes, and also a lot of unemployment filing. They apply for unemployment online, then come in to file their weekly claims.”
Trickett said students also come in to use the computers at Munford’s library, which opened in 2008 in the band room of the old Munford High School campus with a gift of 5,000 books from the estate of Hugh Parnell.
“During the summer the computer usage slows a little, but when school starts back we see increased usage for online classes and kids doing homework. A lot of kids don’t have access to a computer or the Internet at home.”
At Sylacauga’s B.B. Comer Memorial Library, patrons have used the computers for all those purposes and more, said Director Dr. Shirley Spears. Some owners of small businesses use the computers to file their quarterly tax reports, and some even renew licenses online. And, through the library’s videoconferencing capability, the area librarians sometimes gather in Sylacauga for training from the Alabama Library Association in Montgomery.
“It saves travel expense and time, and it gives us some time to get together and get to know each other,” Spears said.
“When you’re riding the technology horse, you have to keep moving constantly to keep things up-to-date. We spend a great deal of time trying to keep our technology current,” she said.
“We’re like everybody else. We’ve faced budget cuts since 2008 when the economy tanked, but we’ve been very fortunate. We work hard to come up with ways to supplement our funding to bring things to the public like our brown bag series and children’s programs. We look to the community to help with those extras, and we’ve found that people are always glad to give us a hand to help us do things above and beyond what our budget will fund.”
Librarians at Childersburg’s Earle A. Rainwater Memorial Library have seen a slight decline in the number of books checked out, but that coincides with the addition of e-books to the library’s services. “All people have to do is come down and get their library card and go online and pick our library, then they have the option of thousands and thousands of books,” she said. “A lot of our readers have Kindles or use their phones to download books. We’re in a consortium, so there are thousands of titles available in fiction and non-fiction.
“You can put a book on hold. You get them for two weeks, then they disappear. There’s no way to be overdue. A lot of our patrons are using it and they’re very pleased. I’ve never heard anybody say they didn’t like it.”
The libraries in Sylacauga, Talladega and Pell City also started offering e-books this year.
Carpenter said Childersburg’s library received a gift of eight Apple computers from Auburn University and Tuskegee University, and the library’s computers are also popular with job-seekers.
The National Library Association report said library construction continued apace in 2012, with new construction and renovation offered as evidence that American communities believe libraries continue to bring economic dividends.
Libraries in Lincoln and Pell City are evidence that the national trend applies here.
“We’re moving into our new building in early 2014,” said Melanie Harris, director of the Lincoln Public Library. “It’s very exciting. It’s going to be about 7,500 square feet, almost four times larger than our current space.”
She said the new building – at the site of the old Lincoln City Hall – will have a room dedicated to Lincoln memorabilia, plus 15 public computers, separate areas for teens and children, and a community room for meetings and gatherings.
The Lincoln library has a collection of some 17,000 books, and Harris said hundreds of old books which have been weeded from the collection are for sale, $1 for hardbacks, 50 cents for paperbacks and children’s books.
Harris said she hopes Lincoln can start offering e-books once the move to the new building is complete.
In Pell City, Stewart said city leaders are in the process of buying the old Century Link building for an expanded library, growing from 5,000 to 20,000 square feet. “We won’t have any trouble filling it up,” he said, adding that he hopes the move will be made in the next six to eight months. “We will have conference rooms, meeting rooms and space for more books,” he said.
Making information available to the public has never been more important, said Spears, who marked her 30th anniversary as the director of Sylacauga’s library this week.
“We have five city libraries in Talladega County. That is extraordinary. This county is 70 miles long, and I think it’s very important that we have library service spread all across the county. They’re strategically located. For us to be a blue-collar, poorer county, for us to have library service placed so strategically, I think that’s a wonderful thing. People from other counties come into Talladega County to use these libraries. I think libraries are a pretty powerful component of life in Talladega County.”
Spears praised the expertise of her colleagues throughout the area, especially those in smaller communities. “I have the greatest respect for the very small libraries – they’re my heroes. It’s extremely difficult to do the technology, handle book collection, make it available, do programs and take care of a building when you only have one or two people. They are so meaningful to their communities. I have a lot of respect for all the librarians I know.”
Area libraries also work with area schools to support the accelerated reader program, supplementing the number of books available to students. Each also provides a summer reading program for children, as well as items and activities reflective of the community’s interests.
“We are the information face of Talladega,” said Harkins. “We offer books, computers, magazines and newspapers. I feel like we’re the heart of the city, working to offer what the public needs. We’re an integral part of the community.”
Making patrons comfortable is important for Munford’s Trickett.
“We’re very proud of our little library, and we’re told it’s very inviting. We try to make a family atmosphere. We get to know our patrons, and we try to make everybody feel welcome.”