The Pittsburg branch of the Crab Orchard Public Library district recently closed its doors, but many community libraries continue to thrive throughout the region.
Lola Morris, district librarian, said the Pittsburg library was not extensively used and with a limited tax base and increasing expenses, the district determined keeping the branch open wasn’t the best use of its limited resources.
“We’ve had people coming from Pittsburg for a long time because they would rather have a larger library and a lot will go to Marion because they want an even larger library,” Morris said.
But Morris expressed confidence that community libraries are still viable in a technological age.
“I’ve heard so much about libraries are going to die away because of e-books and computers,” Morris said. “But that’s not true because everyone can’t afford computers, everyone can’t afford the internet. Libraries offer that. We have plenty of computers here for people to use. We offer the e-books, so I think the library, whether its e-books or wireless or getting a book in hand, I think people need to use it.”
Adapting to changing times by offering more than the traditional shelves of printed books, libraries have actually seen an uptick in usage due to access they now provide to technological resources many residents don’t have at home.
“There are constantly people coming in here to use computers, use the copier, get a library card so they can get e-books,” Morris said. “I just think that libraries aren’t going to die because for us we keep increasing. I look at our annual report, and I see our usage has gone up -- our circulation has gone up.”
Kristina Benson, Du Quoin Public Library director, said helping patrons locate a book is a small part of what she does each day. The lion’s share of her time is spent helping people access government documents, prepare resumes and apply for jobs online.
“It’s a whole lot more than a John Grisham book,” Benson said. “That’s the quick, easy part and then it’s back to the computers for hands-on help with technology.”
Providing 250 e-books a month to patrons, Du Quoin Public Library’s circulation has remained steady, Benson said.
Circulation has increased by 400 percent over the last three years at the Sesser Public Library, LeAndra Wilson, librarian, said.
Entirely dependent on a city tax levy, the library has shaped itself into a community center of sorts.
“Right now, we also function as a community center,” Wilson said. “We don’t have a community center in Sesser. We’ve got tables where people come and sit and visit. I have computers for public use that get used constantly. Sometimes I think we’re even a cooling station. We’ve learned to be a jack-of-all-trades to keep the doors open.”
The library is also expanding by becoming a member of the Illinois Heartland Library System, increasing its offerings from 2 million to 10 million titles, Wilson said.
But there are no turnstiles at the library or admission fees charged when patrons use the library. With flat property taxes and large unemployment rates, libraries have to manage their limited resources carefully.
“We get really creative on cost-efficiencies,” Benson said. “I’ve been turning file folders inside out for three or four years. I haven’t bought file folders in forever. Anything that can be reused or repurposed is.”