Lending more than books

By Julie Vandenboom

Library reaches out during economic slump

If today’s economic climate has you looking for ways to cut expenses, you're not alone. On a recent Saturday, the Capital Area District Library’s downtown Lansing branch was full of patrons despite chilly temperatures and snowy roads.

"We're getting a lot of first-timers," said Trenton Smiley, the library’s marketing director. Smiley noted that in January, the most recent month with available data, first-time visitors to the library were up by 8 percent. Smiley linked the increase to the economic downturn. "It's time for people to take full advantage of our programs and services."

Saturday's visitors were there to check out books and movies, but also to enjoy some of the library's other, less-publicized services. Monique Smith, who lives near Lansing’s Frandor shopping center, was using the computer lab. While Smith has a home computer, she doesn’t have her own printer, and she said the library’s machines run a little faster than her own, too.

The downtown library also has a set of computers set up specifically for kids. Smith's child first learned how to use a computer at the library and has also taken advantage of arts and crafts activities. "It's awesome that they do that," Smith said. "It's family time in a positive setting."

Along with the public computers, each of the library’s 13 branches offers free wireless Internet service. So if you have to cut your costs by cutting your Internet, you can still get online at the library. And if you've never used a computer before and you want to get started, there are courses available to teach you.

Those in the market for free entertainment are in luck, too.

"Our programs run the gamut of quality entertainment," Smiley said, pointing to recent visits from national names, such as HDTV star Kelly Edwards and PBS's Caroline Ashleigh as examples. There are also story time programs nearly every week for toddlers and preschoolers, and reading groups and activities for older kids. A calendar of upcoming events is available at www. cadl.org.

The library's current "Lean On Us" campaign urges area residents to make the most of the library's resources. "We're here to provide some relief to residents during these tough times," Smiley said.

Smith seemed to feel the same way. "If these books weren't here, you'd have to buy them."

It's free to check out both books and movies at CADL.

Small business owners have access to a wealth of information through the library, including databases, such as MarketResearch.com and BusinessDecision, which can be used to perform analyses that might otherwise be too pricey for the small business to consider.

In addition to opportunities provided by the library, Smiley also urges patrons to use CADL as a portal to other services. The library's Web site offers links to information on taxes, employment leads, foreclosure prevention and other social services. The library is also partnering with Capital Area Michigan Works to host Employability Express workshops to assist job seekers at several branches.