“Downturn Puts New Stresses on Libraries”

That’s the title of this NYT article, which reports in part:

These days, however, community need reaches far beyond reference help — and in many libraries, it is turning a normally tranquil place into an emotional and stressful hotbed.

As the national economic crisis has deepened and social services have become casualties of budget cuts, libraries have come to fill a void for more people, particularly job-seekers and those who have fallen on hard times. Libraries across the country are seeing double-digit increases in patronage, often from 10 percent to 30 percent, over previous years.

But in some cities, this new popularity — some would call it overtaxing — is pushing libraries in directions not seen before, with librarians dealing with stresses that go far beyond overdue fines and misshelved books. Many say they feel ill-equipped for the newfound demands of the job, the result of working with anxious and often depressed patrons who say they have nowhere else to go.

The stresses have become so significant here that a therapist will soon be counseling library employees.

“I guess I’m not really used to people with tears in their eyes,” said Rosalie Bork, a reference librarian in Arlington Heights, a well-to-do suburb of Chicago. “It has been unexpectedly stressful. We feel so anxious to help these people, and it’s been so emotional for them.”

Urban ills like homelessness have affected libraries in many cities for years, but librarians here and elsewhere say they are seeing new challenges. They find people asleep more often at cubicles. Patrons who cannot read or write ask for help filling out job applications. Some people sit at computers trying to use the Internet, even though they have no idea what the Internet is.

I remember hearing a number of law profs incorrectly predict that the Internet would reduce the demand for real space libraries. I knew they were wrong just from my own library experiences. The one in my neighborhood is always packed with people, has been since I moved to SC in 2000, and the one in my previous Dayton, OH neighborhood was as well. They serve as community meeting centers in good times, and apparently increasingly as refuges for people with no where else to go.

Via Out of the Jungle.