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In the stacks
Libraries act as lifelines in poor economy

Nancy Guinn Memorial Library Adult Services Librarian Gary Frizzell is noticing a shift in the reasons why people use the library's Internet-accessible computers. Used to be, he'd see at least some folks gawking at YouTube videos or keeping up with their social life on their MySpace pages. These days, however, gaining Internet access can be crucial to paying the mortgage or putting food on the table.

"People have gotten much more serious about what they need the computers for," Frizzell said. "This is life or death. This is survival."

Frizzell said that while there's no way to measure exactly what people are using the computers for because of confidentiality, he has had countless personal conversations with patrons that point to a job search.

"You can't help but notice when they want to attach a resume," Frizzell said. "You have regulars. You begin to talk to them. You know they're in here every day looking for a job. You get to see the whole process."

With unemployment at an all-time high of 8.6 percent in Georgia and more than 412,000 people looking for work, libraries appear to be a valuable resource for job-hunters and those cutting back on the budget. The Georgia Public Library Services reports visits up 15.7 percent statewide over the last two years.

That same trend is reflected locally. Traffic at the Nancy Guinn branch rose 6 percent in FY 2008 as compared to FY 2007 and in the Newton County Library, visitors increased 16 percent during that same time period. Likewise, Internet use is up in both libraries, 4 percent for Rockdale and 12 percent for Newton.

What's remarkable for the Rockdale library is that despite having 40 percent of its collection in storage and functioning with only 10,000 square feet as opposed to 25,000 square feet due to renovations, the library is maintaining circulation and is experiencing high usage of computers so far for 2009, with an average of 5,000 uses per month.

"We fully expected to take a hit when we moved into these quarters," Frizzell said. "What happened is that we're doing really well. We're busy."

Newton County Library Director Greg Heid said that where his library once saw about 200 computer users a day, he is now seeing about 210 to 215.

"People are having to cut down on expenses at home and a lot of them are dropping Internet service," Heid said. "This is the only place for them to come for Internet service."

Both libraries maintain reservation stations for computers in which a patron's library card may be used to place a hold on a computer. At the Rockdale library, a patron may use one of the 20 Internet-accessible computers for up to two hours a day, in one-hour or less increments. The Newton library offers unlimited use in one-hour or less increments provided there is no waiting list for the 34 Internet-accessible computers.

Staff members at both libraries do what they can to aid people one-on-one in job searches. Newton also offers classes on creating resumes, operating computers and learning Word and Excel. Rockdale recently published contact information for the public's most frequently requested agencies in the winter newsletter.

In addition to searching for jobs, patrons also use the computers to send resumes for positions and maintain e-mail about positions.

"You just don't do a lot of mailing off of your resume any more," Frizzell said.

With circulation on the rise in both libraries, library officials surmise that more people are checking out materials to help them improve their job skills, as well as borrowing books to read for pleasure instead of purchasing them. Those who have chosen to save money by cutting back on magazine subscriptions and DVD rentals also impact library use.

"Because we don't have the most current DVDs, they will agree to wait six months or so for the movie," Heid said.

Heid said the library is also a refuge for those looking for work who just need a break from the confines of their own homes.

"A lot of people come into the library because they are home all day," Heid said. "They've been laid off from work and are applying for jobs and they just want to come to the library because it's a second living room for them."

Contact Karen J. Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: Rockdale library referrals

Free job-hunting assistance:

· Georgia Department of Labor Career Center (Also unemployment and veterans' employment assistance)

7249 Industrial Blvd. N.E., Covington

770-784-2455

www.dol.state.ga.us/cc_services.htm

· Atlanta Regional Commission:

Career Resource Center,

Rockdale Branch

Open Thursdays only

350 Tall Oaks Drive, Conyers

770-806-2020

www.atlantaregional.com/html/2150.aspx

Adult basic skills education and GED preparation:

· DeKalb Technical College - Rockdale Career Academy

1064 Culpepper Drive, Conyers

770-786-9522, ext. 3220

www.dekalbtech.edu/adultlit/skills.php

GED testing:

· DeKalb Technical College - Newton Center

8100 Bob Williams Parkway, Covington

404-297-9522, ext. 2516

www.dekalbtech.edu/adultlit/testing.php

English literacy (ESL) and citizenship education program:

· DeKalb Technical College - Rockdale Career Academy

1064 Culpepper Drive, Conyers

770-786-9522, ext. 3219

www.dekalbtech.edu/adultlit/englit.php

Closest Social Security office:

9180 Covington Bypass, Covington

800-772-1213

www.socialsecurity.gov

(Retire Online program just announced)

Social and human services:

· United Way 2-1-1 of Metropolitan Atlanta (Counseling, homeless shelters, food and clothing banks, etc.)

211 or 404-614-1000

211online.unitedwayatlanta.org

Free credit report:

· Annual Credit Report Request Service

877-322-8228

www.annualcreditreport.com