Libraries Face Cuts, Even as Usage Rises

Article excerpt

Byline: BETH REESE CRAVEY

Nothing like a guy in huge red shoes, flaming red hair and a bright yellow jumpsuit to get kids' attention.

Maybe even get their heads into a book.

Dozens of children crowded into a Middleburg-Clay Hill public library activity room on a recent afternoon to hear Ronald McDonald read "Don't Forget the Bacon" and "Your Mama's a Llama" - and urge them to read on their own.

"Ronald reads!" he proclaimed.

Ronald's visit was hosted by the Middleburg McDonald's, with help from library staff and teenage library volunteers.

With Clay County budget cuts looming, such business and community support will be increasingly critical to maintain children's and other programming at the county's five public libraries.

With decreasing revenues and increasing costs, County Manager Fritz Behring has said some county services - possibly including library hours, staffing or even a branch - will have to be cut to meet a County Commission pledge to collect no more property tax revenues in 2009-10 than it did for 2008-09.

But possible cuts come as library use has been on the rise, said Pat Coffman, assistant director of libraries.

The total number of library patrons in 2006-07 was 552,649, followed by 685,281 for 2007-08. So far in 2008-09, from October 2008 through June, the visitor number is 525,265, according to figures compiled by Coffman.

Out-of-work people are using library computers for job searches and taking library classes to boost their computer skills. Financially struggling families are borrowing more books, movies and music from libraries, she said.

"Every time there is an economic downturn, our [usage] statistics go up, this time even more than in the past," Coffman said. …