When times get tough, people look to cut corners. Sometimes that means not buying things you can borrow — like books.
Proverbial wisdom among librarians holds that when the economy stumbles, things get busier. It’s true in the Valley, says Maricopa County Library District spokeswoman Audrey Brownell, but that’s not the whole story: Libraries are also getting some marketing savvy.
From June 2007 to July 2008 the district — which operates East Valley branches in Gilbert, Queen Creek. Fountain Hills and Guadalupe — circulated 5.9 million items, dramatically up from 4.5 million the previous year.
“We just keep going up all the time, that’s common for us,” Brownell says. “But this year we’re up more than normal, and I think that’s the economy.”
Other local libraries are also seeing increases. The economy is partly responsible, they say, but it’s also part of a broader trend as libraries find their niche in an Internet age some predicted would hasten their demise.
Nationally, visits to libraries increased roughly 10 percent between 2002 and 2006, according to numbers provided by the National Center for Education . Circulation went up 9 percent.
For the Maricopa County system, embracing rules and technology has proved a catalyst for growth, says Brownell. Some have supermarket-style self-checkouts, large seating areas and shelves full of best-sellers right out front.
“We found that our customers basically want to browse when they come to the library,” she says. “So that’s what we’re trying to give them.”
At the library’s newest location, Gilbert’s Perry Branch, they even slaughtered a sacred cow, replacing the Dewey Decimal System with a catalog modeled after big-box booksellers.
“We’re not just a storehouse for books anymore,” Brownell says.
Tempe’s library use has gone up, though it’s at a more modest 5 percent clip, says library director Teri Metros. Still, Metros sees any increase as significant, since the library’s circulation had been going down for years.
But beyond the books checked out, the library has found its place as a portal for Internet users. Computer use was up 14 percent last year, she says, and laptops are everywhere, as people buy a cup of coffee at the library’s in-house cafe and to take advantage of free Wi-Fi.
“We’re just busy all the time; we don’t have any slow periods,” Metros says.
Even Mesa’s libraries, which slashed hours amid budget cuts, have seen their circulation rebound, says Kate Havris, assistant director of the three-branch system. It is up 8 percent in the last month.
“Times of economic crisis always see more circulation, more people coming in the doors,” she says. “The saying is that libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries. I think that’s pretty true.”
EAST VALLEY LIBRARIES
Southeast Regional Library - Gilbert: 775 N Greenfield Road, Gilbert, (602) 652-3000
Queen Creek Branch Library: 22407 S. Ellsworth Road, Queen Creek, (602) 652-3000
Perry Branch Library - Gilbert: 1965 E. Queen Creek Road, Gilbert, (602) 652-3000
Mesa Main Library: 64 E. First St., Mesa, (480) 644-2207
Mesa Dobson Ranch Branch: 2425 S. Dobson Road, Mesa, (480) 644-3441
Mesa Red Mountain Branch: 635 N. Power Road, Mesa, (480) 644-3184
Apache Junction Public Library: 1177 N. Idaho Road, Apache Junction, (480) 474-8555
Chandler Downtown Branch: 22 S. Delaware Street, Chandler, (480) 782-2800
Chandler Basha Branch: 5990 South Val Vista Drive, Chandler, (480) 782-2850
Chandler Hamilton Branch: 3700 South Arizona Ave., Chandler, (480) 782-2828
Chandler Sunset Branch: 4930 West Ray Road, Chandler, (480) 782-2840
Guadalupe Branch Library: 9241 S. Avenida del Yaqui, Guadalupe, (602) 652-3000
Ed Robson Branch Library - Sun Lakes: 9330 E Riggs Road, Sun Lakes, (602) 652-3000
Tempe Public Library: 3500 S. Rural Road, Tempe, (480) 350-5500
Scottsdale Civic Center Library: 3839 N. Drinkwater Blvd., Scottsdale, (480) 312-7323
Scottsdale Arabian Library: 10215 E. McDowell Mt. Ranch Road, Scottsdale, (480) 312-7323
Scottsdale Mustang Library: 10101 N. 90th Street, Scottsdale, (480) 312-7323
Scottsdale Palomino Library: 12575 E. Via Linda, Suite 102, Scottsdale, (480) 312-7323
Fountain Hills Branch Library: 12901 N. La Montana Dr. Fountain Hills, (602) 652-3000