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Libraries Boom as Banks Swoon


Unemployed, bored, flock to havens of free information.

Recessions aren't bad for everyone, just ask your local librarian.

Even as Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C), 2 of the biggest banks in the world and the erstwhile pillars of our economy fight for survival, the business of handing out information for free is booming.

The Wall Street Journal reports public libraries around the country are experiencing a spike in attendance, confounding skeptics who thought the Internet would render these time-honored community centers obsolete.

The recent increase in library use isn't necessarily surprising: Free Internet and other resource materials attract the unemployed and others long on time, short on income-producing work. Libraries often see attendance spikes during recessions. Library administrators, eager to retain their position as a public media source, have also begun carrying videogames and DVDs to attract younger patrons.

Libraries offer a quiet place to work, away from the clutter and distractions of home. My younger brother, for example, recently completed the challenging task of finding a job in an abysmal market. After a morning gym session, he schlepped his computer to the local library for a few hours of diligent job hunting. The change of scenery (let's face it, even hanging out at the library is better than living at home at 26) allowed him to focus on the task at hand, leaving the rest of the day to enjoy the freedom unemployment affords those deft enough to seize it.

The flood of new patrons is straining library staff, as already tight budgets are hacked away by municipalities' financial troubles. This is a trend we are only beginning to witness, as our economic woes chew into public funds at a time when coffers are running dry.

Our federal government is aggressively ramping up its support of our economy, asking public employees to implement a mountain of new programs and initiatives, despite the need to slim down payrolls in the face of weak tax revenues. Government is already notoriously lousy at implementing, well, anything, so to say the execution of President-Elect Obama's ambitious economic stimulus package will be challenging in the current environment is an understatement.

A return to the library is also evidence of the broader deflationary forces at work in this country, and indeed around the world. Libraries are the ultimate deflation trade: They're free. Consumers are trading down in their purchasing options - the only difference between choosing McDonald's over the Cheesecake Factory and playing Wii at the library instead of at home is the increased calorie count.
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