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Our View: Libraries a vital resource, especially in tough times

In this economy, good news can be harder to find than well-paying jobs, but public libraries are proving to be exceptional. All of the benefits of libraries have become magnified, and the reasons for investments in such institutions have come into sharper focus.

Increasingly, people are turning to libraries for entertainment and assistance in researching careers and crafting résumés. The Washington State Library surveyed library districts and found an impressive increase in usage from June to November. Statewide, in-person visits are up 7.5 percent; material checkouts, 11.2 percent; online visits, 20.2 percent; and reference transactions, 4.4 percent. Internet computer usage also has increased.

The Spokane County Library District confirms what the survey says. Its Web site activity for January is up 59 percent over the same month last year. The libraries also experienced a large uptick in the percentage of materials checked out in 2008 compared with 2007. Library programs for adults and children are gaining larger audiences, even though the number of programs offered has remained the same. Library workers have noticed that it’s rare for any computer to sit idle, and they’ve been getting more inquiries about help with résumés.

It’s a good thing this economic downturn didn’t occur in 2005, when the city of Spokane had reduced library hours to three days a week, an embarrassment from which it is still recovering. Two branches – South Hill and Shadle – are now open six days a week, with the rest open Tuesdays through Saturdays. Library hours in the city still lag those in the county and nearby towns, but the recent increase has coincided with a greater need for the services.

Coeur d’Alene residents have enthusiastically embraced their new library. As Bette Ammon, director of the Coeur d’Alene Public Library, told The Spokesman-Review in August, “It’s every librarian’s dream having lines of people waiting to come in when you’re unlocking the doors, checking out all your books.”

Along with practical-information services, libraries offer a respite for families who have cut their entertainment budgets. DVDs, CDs and audiobooks can be checked out or downloaded. Free wireless service is also a draw. Plus, the buildings themselves are a nice destination for people who just want to escape their homes in the dead of winter.

Public libraries are a classic example of a public service that improves the daily lives of people, especially when times are tough. Hopefully, budget writers will view them as more than a cost entry when it comes to making tough choices.

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Editorial: Washington state lawmakers scramble to keep public in the dark

State lawmakers want to create a legislative loophole in Washington’s Public Records Act. While it’s nice to see Democrats and Republicans working together for once, it’s just too bad that their agreement is that the public is the enemy. As The Spokesman-Review’s Olympia reporter Jim Camden explained Feb. 22, lawmakers could vote on a bill today responding to a court order that the people of Washington are entitled to review legislative records.