Full House at Libraries, TribLocal’s Lawerence Synett Writes

The Northwest Herald obviously is in a cost cutting mode.

Now, new competition has arrived for its weekend “Neighbors” section. That section is pretty much organization press releases and submitted photos.

TribLocal's Paula Dudley, Lawerence Synett and Katie Cousino at the McHenry Chamber of Commerce's Business Expo last Saturday.

The new competitor in town is something called “TribLocal.” It is a local content insert that the Chicago Tribune is rolling out throughout the suburbs. Like the NW Herald’s “Neighbors,” it also has press releases and photos organizations submit, but, in addition, there is a web site with more.  Local stories not covered in the NW Herald also appear.  Here’s the link to stories of interest to Crystal Lakers, for instance.

I met the TribLocal folks at the Business Expo in McHenry last Saturday, having missed their October 1st introduction party.

You can tell the NW Herald has noticed because it has begun putting its Sun City insert in the weekend Neighbors Section.

The Northwest Herald is now giving away part of its newspaper.

It has also begun giving it away separately on news stands, as you can see above.

The introduction out of the way here is a column about local libraries:

Community Corner: Libraries still a viable resource
By Lawerence Synett, TribLocal reporter

“What is more important in a library than anything else, than everything else, is the fact that it exists.”— Illinois poet Archibald MacLeish

Residents don’t see many positives in a struggling economy. From school budget cuts to the rising unemployed, the economic downtown has left many as cold and bitter as Old Man Winter.

It's hard to find a parking space in the Crystal Lake Library parking lot. The newsletter that arrived this week commented on how the snow had diminished the number of spaces. When I visited Thursday to file a Freedom of Information request, I got the last space.

But during tough times, residents are turning to what some may have considered passé and out of touch only a few years ago—the library, a true diamond in the rough. This tough stretch for residents has forced them to rediscover the tremendous value of their local library, and once again made true those words MacLeish wrote in June 1972.

“There is an old saying that libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries,” Huntley Public Library Executive Director Patrick McDonald said, “I think that’s as true today as it ever was.”

That’s right. People today have the opportunity to use their library for more than just checking out books, music and movies. They now have money training, and saving, opportunities—Internet access, professional assistance with job searches and programs training them in today’s latest technology.

In Huntley, the library’s top four categories have increased steadily since 2007—circulation is up almost 150,000, attendance by nearly 100,000, interlibrary loans by nearly 50,000 and requests for reference help by more than 20,000.

This isn’t just happenstance at the Huntley library, it is a trend at libraries across the country—a 2009 American Library Association report found that 76 percent of Americans had visited their library in the past year, up 65 percent from the prior year.

As is the case at our schools and even the workplace, staff is being asked to do more with less. They are being asked to continue to provide residents with the best possible services available with less money, and in most cases, they are being forced to make cuts.

McDonald said, “We do our best with what we have, but we can only do so much to reduce operating costs and continue to provide the level of service needed,” and with state funding to regional library systems in jeopardy, “that funding would be a big blow to some of the services and materials many libraries are able to provide.”

Is this fair? No. But I believe libraries are not part of the problem, they are part of the solution.

Libraries continue to be the pulse of the community, a part of the educational and social fabric pushing toward a solution to the economic downturn by providing the chance for people to gain the skills necessary for a new job or the training needed to start a successful new business.

Crystal Lake Library

Crystal Lake Public Library Director Kathryn Martens said that budget issues and possible cutbacks continue to hinder the increased amount of services patrons expect from libraries, but realizes libraries are here to serve the public.

That is why libraries are so valuable to our communities, because they have one goal, to serve their patrons the way they deem necessary.

Martens also recognized that library use has been on the rise not just during a struggling economy, but also over the last 20 years.

“We are always looking for what is current, what people are asking about, what they want, what is in their lives,” she said.

Libraries are here to stay, and a valuable resource. They are a part of the solution, and we all need to recognize what’s most important, that they are here, during the good and the bad, with staff working tirelessly to provide the services we need.

*Lawerence Synett is the TribLocal community manager for Algonquin, Lake in the Hills, Huntley, Crystal Lake, McHenry and Woodstock. If you would like to comment on this column, or have stories, photos or events you would like to share at triblocal.com, register online for free, e-mail Synett at lsynett@tribune.com or call 708-498-0458.

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