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Technology that is placing thousands of books into the palms of readers has led some to question if public libraries are still relevant and necessary.

Cristy Rader is not one of them.

The public library is an integral part of the Carbondale resident’s daily routine.

“I try to come everyday to check things on the internet,” said Rader.

For people like Rader who do not have internet access at home, the public library provides a lifeline to the world.

“We assume everybody has access to a computer and has access to an internet connection that is even going to allow you to get on the websites or a computer new enough to even apply for jobs. We can’t make those assumptions for everyone,” Du Quoin Public Library Director Kristina Benson said.

Ironically, technology has turned out to be a friend and not a foe of the public library. Instead of being threatened by it, libraries have embraced technology and this adaptation has led to increased library traffic.

“Statistically, people use libraries more than they’ve ever used libraries,” Carbondale Public Library Director Diana Brawley Sussman said. “I think the technology available is probably a large part of it.”

In addition to providing patrons with assistance using their own technological devices, the library offers a wide variety of techno-logical services, including e-books, computers, internet access and DVDs.

“At the library, we are a bridge between the person and the technology,” Brawley Sussman said.

Benson said the library is an indispensable resource for people using technology.

“First, who’s going to help you learn how to use your device? Second, e-books are still expensive . . . Here, I am able to lend things for free.”

Marion Carnegie Library offers more than 11,000 e-books. Library Director Erica Hanke said that number will increase “drasti-cally” once it receives more titles from the Illinois Heartland Library System.

“Over the past years our traffic has increased,” Hanke said. “At the end of last year, we had almost 150,000 people come through our doors. It’s definitely gone up. We’re a great free resource of information.”

Libraries have also increased traffic by remaking themselves into a center where people can gather to be part of free programs that help people in the community interact and connect with each other.

The Carbondale Public Library offers 500 different programs, ranging from children’s programs such as story time to adult tech-nological mentorship programs.

“We try to be sort of a community hub,” said Brawley Sussman.

Public libraries provide a level playing field, offering their services free to those on the lower and higher ends of the economic spectrum.

“It’s hard to find something that just wants you to walk into their door and be part of a community without expecting you to pay for something,” Benson said.

In addition to books and e-titles, the Carbondale Public Library offers a sizeable collection of free movies.

Carbondale resident Paul Vanni said the library’s video collection helps him save money by not having to rent movies from a video store.

“Library use always goes up during tough economic times because people are always looking for something to do that won’t cost them a lot of money,” Brawley Sussman said.

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But public libraries, which receive funding from local property taxes, city budgets and the state, are not immune from economic difficulties.

“We do face a lot of financial pressure,” Brawley Sussman said.

Hanke said Marion Carnegie Library is doing okay financially, but a couple people have retired and she hasn’t been able to fill those positions, forcing some employees to take on added responsibilities.

She doesn’t know of any libraries that have been forced to shut down in the region, but Hanke said the loss of a library would be damaging to a community, particularly to the poor.

“I think it would primarily hurt some of the lower income. They would obviously feel it more than the people who can go out and afford books and computers themselves.

Rader can’t imagine what life would be like without her library. She depends on it as her daily source of information.

For people like Rader, the library is not a luxury to be taken for granted.

“People should not forsake the library,” Rader said. “It’s not something you want to lose.”

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Chris Hottensen is the entertainment and features reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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