A different kind of lending institution

With today’s economy having some people wondering if we’re headed into round two of The Great Depression, frugality has become the hot trend and local libraries are more than happy to lend a hand to area families looking for relief. Northern Kentucky's Kenton County Public Library and Boone County Public Library as well as the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, retain bragging rights as three of the strongest library systems in the country. All offer an impressive array of services and amenities that are accessible at no charge with a valid library card.

The Kenton County Public Library system in Northern Kentucky is working overtime to help relieve the pinch some families are feeling on their wallets. Recently ranked #1 in the state by Hennen’s American Public Library Rating, the Kenton County Public Library’s three branches are seeing large jumps in circulation numbers this year.

Former Northern Kentucky school teacher, Sheryl Epping has figured out just how valuable a library can be. “It (the library) has been absolutely wonderful, to the point that it’s my kids' second home,” Epping says of her six children, ages 17, 15, 6, 5, and 4, who frequently max out mom’s library card checking out books.

Books are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Epping family and their use of the Kenton County Public libraries. Between the three branches, there are over 150 monthly programs ranging from story hours for the kids to a lecture series and community classes for adults, all for free. Epping lets her children circle the programs they wish to attend when the activity flyer is delivered to her inbox each month. Last year her children participated in 168 of the library’s programs, which she believes works out to be an overall savings of $1,008.00 that remains in her family’s pocket. Epping came to this figure using Kenton County Library’s Use Value Calculator which estimates the cost of purchasing supplies and books compared to attending the library’s weekly story and craft time. In addition to the savings attributed to attending children’s programs, Epping’s family saved $1,280.00 on movie rentals, $2,880 on CDs, $200.00 playing the library’s Wii games, $240 attending adult programs and approximately $10,080 on the 840 books her family checked out. Add it all up and you just bought yourself a Toyota Yaris ($12,205), paid cash and still have money left over for gas.

Given the economy’s present state, people are discovering in record numbers that libraries are more than just homes for books. Gina Holt, Public Relations Coordinator for Kenton County Public Library, reported the library checked out 3,000 more items in September 2008 than the same month a year prior - numbers she believes reflect the economic hardship. “The economy is rough, and we all need to figure out how we can save money and can cut back. The library is the perfect place to do that,” says Holt.

Offering a myriad of free classes, concerts and a Teen program, Kentucky's Boone County Library system provides an impressive collection utilizing state of the art technology. Boone County took the lead in helping to implement the Unbound Digital Media Catalog for the entire State of Kentucky. The site allows visitors to any one of Boone County's libraries to tap into a surprising array of audiobooks, ebooks, MP3s and Videos right from the comfort of their own laptop.

"The site is a true virtual branch of the library - not just a window into what you could be doing if you were at the library," says library director, Lucinda Brown.

It must be working. According to Brown, users downloaded 150% more audio books over the same quarter of last year. And the physical library is no ghost town either with general circulation up 43% over last quarter.

Similarly, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has seen an increase in its circulation numbers over the past year. The Main Library was recognized as the busiest library in the country, according to a report conducted by the Public Library Association. With a total circulation exceeding 4 million items per year, the Main Library surpassed major library systems in both Chicago and New York, and is already on pace to lead the country next year as well. As of July, the year-to-date circulation rate sits at 2.5 million, a 12% increase over last year. Emily Mueller, spokesperson for the Main Library, believes the branch “can help people tighten their financial belt without sacrificing their appetite for entertainment.”

With a TechCenter with more than 100 personal computers, a KidSpace with story times and family-inclusive activities, the MyLibraryDV database offering an extensive selection of downloadable online video, and over 4,000 current title subscriptions in the Magazines and Newspapers Department, the downtown lending institution features an impressive array of physical and electronic media at a price with which few can argue.

TeenSpot, another department recently created in the library’s reorganization, also helps 12-18 year olds hold on to their hard earned after school job money. With monthly activities such as Guitar Hero Tournaments and “Are YOU Game?” nights, teens take advantage of the opportunity to play the latest video games on a variety of gaming systems for free while occupying their time away from home in a safe and monitored environment. With Wii gaming consoles going for more than $300.00 and individual games costing $50.00 a game, the TeenSpot can also help families put that money towards other areas of the home budget.

15 year old Courtney Cox believes, “The only place to be is in the library.” She helps out at the TeenSpot in order to earn the volunteer hours all Cincinnati Public High Schools require for graduation. Cox also takes advantage of Homework Central, a department of the library which offers free tutoring programs seven days a week. Online tutoring programs such as e-tutor currently cost $150 - $420 a month.

Another indispensable education tool used by families, as well as local high schools, colleges and universities is OhioLINK. University libraries on 89 different Ohio campuses are linked together on a common network, allowing students and professors access to millions of books, electronic journals, and dissertations. With the click of a mouse a textbook required for a Spanish class can be borrowed from The Ohio State University and be into a student’s hands by the time class starts on Monday.

Shannon McCarthy, a Communications major at the University of Cincinnati, OhioLINKed both her fall quarter Public Relations Campaign textbooks which netted her a savings of $136.81, which went towards ramen noodles.

Epping does not have access to OhioLink, but she does use Kenton County Public Library for the supplemental materials she needs to home school her children. Whether they’re studying Spanish or Philosophy, she finds all the tools she needs for home education at the library. When her twins Elliott and Lydia, age 15, were younger she would take them to the library for Puppy Tales, a program which allows children to read to a dog.  Studies by the Intermountain Therapy Animals, a non-profit organization, found reading to the dogs actually helps children develop better reading and communication skills as well as build self-confidence.  The program is one of Kenton County Public Library’s unique patron opportunities; all you have to do is show up, the dogs and fun are provided for free.

Times may be hard, but as Epping and her family have demonstrated, there’s no excuse not to keep the entertainment and education alive, “We’re so blessed to have the library….My philosophy has always been to create something out of nothing,” says Epping. “We can travel around the world; we can create it right at our house by just using what’s at the library and that’s what makes life so much fun at times.”


Photography by Scott Beseler

Puppy Tales at Kenton County Public Library, Erlanger

Boys gaming at Kenton County Public Library, Covington

Boy web surfing on a stool

Browsing DVDs

Kenton County Public Library, Erlanger

Kenton County Public Library, Covington from above

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