Library branch usage surges

Folks in Mecklenburg County are using their public library branches more – at some spots, a lot more.

The number of materials checked out at Mecklenburg County libraries rose 12 percent overall in September compared to the same time last year, officials say. Some branches reported double that increase.

The sagging economy is a big factor, librarians say.

“Nationally, during economic downturns, there is always an increase in traffic at public libraries,” said Matthews Branch Library Manager Michael Lambert. “We have a lot of people coming in to use the computers, work on resumes and search for jobs online.”

Popular materials include books on writing resumes and prep books for professional exams and certifications. Technology workshops that cover programs such as Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint and skills such as posting items on Craigslist, an online classified site, are always full, Lambert said. Some have waiting lists.

With family budgets tightening, the library's children's books and DVDs are popular. Children's programs are full almost as soon as registration begins.

“We're free entertainment, but we also provide resources a lot of people are coming to use,” Lambert said.

The Steele Creek branch in fast-growing southwest Mecklenburg had the biggest jump in business, with a 29 percent increase.

“It's a lot of new card holders,” said Sandy Stratton, children's manager for the Steele Creek Branch Library.

“Every month, when we register for new (children's) programs, we're seeing new faces.”

Even though business is up, the library has continued to look for ways it can improve.

Officials held a series of meetings last week to gather the public's input and test responses to new ideas.

Some residents suggested the library create more services to allow them to borrow and return books without visiting the branch.

Others suggested privacy could be improved by separating children's and adult areas.

They also said patrons would have an easier time discovering new books if they were displayed flat, not stacked, so their covers could easily be seen.