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Public libraries getting used for more than just checking out books

East Grand Forks resident Michelle Sherette, like many others, uses a computer in East Grand Forks Campbell Library to search for jobs Tuesday. "Thank God for the library; otherwise, I'd have to pay for everything and I just can't right now," she said. (John Stenne/Grand Forks Herald)

EAST GRAND FORKS - Michelle Sherette says she loves her local library.

It's where she checks out new books and DVDs and where she gets help preparing her tax return.

"Now I'm here looking for employment," she said Tuesday afternoon as she searched online job postings in East Grand Forks Campbell Library. "I'm also looking into schools; if I can't find a job where I can support myself and my son, I'll go back to school.

"Thank God for the library; otherwise, I'd have to pay for everything and I just can't right now," she said.

Sherette is one of many across the nation now turning to libraries for help in tough economic times.

Although Grand Forks hasn't seen such severe signs of tough economic times as other parts of the country, local librarians say they are starting to see more patrons take advantage of the free services they have to offer.

"I would say for us, we're seeing the Internet has been busier," said David Haney, manager and director at Grand Forks Public Library.

One woman said she was in the Grand Forks Public Library on Tuesday searching for a job.

"I don't have Internet at home, so this makes it easier," she said.

"Some people have maybe dropped their Internet connection at home and are here now," said Toni Vonasek, reference librarian at the Grand Forks library. "More people are actually checking out books instead of purchasing their own, to save money."

There's an hour limit for Internet usage, and when there are a lot of people there, they may have to wait to get a computer, Vonasek said.

In East Grand Forks, there's been a 4 percent increase in computer usage during the past year, library director Charlotte Helgeson said.

"More and more people are using computers in different ways. More people are writing resumes, looking for jobs. More people are doing work on the computers," she said.

DVD and movie checkouts always have been high, but there were about 1,000 more checked out in February than in January, Haney said.

"I think families are starting to realize the DVDs and books are free here," said Lara Dando, another regular at the library. Dando said she brings her children there for storytime and to check out materials. "Look at the book selection. Look at the DVD selection. It's great. You don't have to pay to borrow these. You can check it out, read and enjoy a book, then bring it back for someone else to enjoy."

Helgeson said more and more families are coming to the library together.

"It's more of a lower-cost activity they can do together," Helgeson said. "I think people are spending more weekends at home, more time at home, and they are looking for activities that aren't going to cost an arm and a leg. Lack of money makes a difference."