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Libraries feel strain of more readers, fewer resources

Detroit Public Library
Detroit Public Library
Detroit Public Library

People losing their local Borders bookstore may turn to their local library for books and DVD’s. But that may put an even bigger strain on Michigan’s already-struggling libraries.

Libraries face a tough paradox.  People tend to use them more when the economy is bad. But a bad economy also means they get fewer resources to work with.

Libraries everywhere are suffering, but the stakes may be highest in Detroit. The city’s public library system faces a projected $17 million budget deficit.

Officials warn of “difficult choices” ahead, including possible layoffs and branch closures.

Sitara Peterson, who’s a frequent visitor at Detroit’s Redford branch library along with her 13-year-old daughter, says closing libraries would be “tragic.”

“A lot of people don’t have computers, so they come here to use the computers. They teach you how to work with the computers, also how to find books. Some people don’t even know how to find books.”

Governor Snyder’s budget will likely slash state aid by at least 50%. That’s according to Jim Pletz, Executive Director of The Library Network, a co-op that co-op that provides books and other supplies for 65 libraries throughout southeast Michigan.

Pletz says there’s been a “massive uptick” in library traffic over the past three years—and aren’t just checking out books.

“The use of computers as public access stations is phenomenally increased. You cannot get on the computers in some cases. In some cases where we have 30-plus public computers, they’re booked from nine in the morning until nine at night.”

Pletz says librarians are also concerned about a proposal in Congress to zero out federal aid for libraries.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.