Reading of Literature and library usage is up across the country!

A library card has become a hot property in the Seattle region — area public libraries are experiencing a surge in circulation. While busy libraries in one of the nation’s most literate cities are nothing new, some librarians credit (or blame) the recession for a dramatic upswing in business. The Seattle area’s two library systems, the King County Library System (KCLS) and Seattle Public Library (SPL), each loaned more than a million more items in 2008 than in 2007. KCLS, the nation’s second busiest system (after Queens Borough, N.Y.), experienced a circulation bump of 6.55 percent, with increases in nearly every category. County library patrons requested more than 20,473 million books, CDs, audiotapes, DVDs and other materials; only magazine circulation showed a modest decrease of about 1 percent. One category — downloads of audiobooks, videos and e-books — jumped from about 109,000 in 2007 to 143,000 in 2008. KCLS director Bill Ptacek says the numbers are no surprise: “I think the economy has a lot to do with it,” he said. “It’s an adage in the library world that the level of use or circulation on public libraries is inversely proportionate to the state of the economy. When the economy’s down, when things are tough, people come to libraries.” The Seattle Public Library experienced an even more robust surge in items checked out — a 21 percent increase over 2007. In 2008, SPL patrons checked out more than 10.3 million items, an increase of more than 1.8 million items over 2007. At the Bellevue Regional Library, traffic has become an issue — thanks not only to book loans, but also to two hours of free computer usage daily. “Did you have a fun time finding a parking spot today?” a librarian asked Wednesday afternoon. “Since the economy tanked, things have been better here.” For Bellevue’s Andrew and Stephanie Hogenson, Wednesday’s visit was a way to cut back on costs for a family that loves to read. “We used to go to Borders all the time,” Andrew said. “We were spending a lot.” The economic downturn was among several factors that prompted their return to libraries, namely the Crossroads and Bellevue branches. Giving library cards to kids Matthew, 11, Bryn, 10, and Devon, 8, helps teach them responsibility, Andrew said. So does having the kids pay for some of their books. With Bryn currently devouring the Lemony Snicket series, the library was a much more affordable option. “She’s able to get them here for free,” Andrew said. Readers welcome Most librarians relish their public-service role, so having more patrons is always welcome news. But both systems will cover the increased volume with modest budget increases. The county system’s $98 million budget has a stable funding source — a county property-tax levy — but the state-mandated 1 percent limitation on property-tax increases has meant “that we’ve been disciplined in making sure we have enough money,” said Ptacek. The city system’s budget increased from $50 million in 2008 to $50.8 million in 2009. SPL spokeswoman Andrea Addison said a $2 million boost to the collection budget last year has helped the library keep up with acquisition of new materials. Nationwide trend Nationwide, libraries have reported similar or greater increases. According to the results of a Harris Poll released in September, 68 percent of all Americans now have a library card, up 5 percent since 2006. “The poll confirmed what we have been hearing,” said American Library Association president Jim Rettig: “libraries have become family destinations, technology hubs, cultural centers — basically the pillar of most of the communities they serve.” Another noteworthy trend on the national scene is that for the first time in a quarter-century, Americans appear to be reading more literature. According to a study released this week by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the number of readers of novels, short stories, poems or plays in print or online increased from 47 percent of the population in 2002 to 50 percent of the population in 2008 — an increase of 16.6 million people. “Whites, African Americans and Hispanics have all shown significant growth in their reading rates, as have both adult men and women,” wrote NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. An increase in reading was especially pronounced among the 18 to 24-year-old group, from 43 percent of the population in 2002 to 52 percent in 2008. Times staff reporter Marc Ramirez contributed to this report. Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@seattletimes.com

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