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Reading time is on the rise at Jackson County libraries
Economy may be factor in increased visitation at local branches
Janice Nelms, right, reads with her daughter, Larali, at the Jefferson Public Library. The library has seen an increase in traffic in recent months. - photo by BRANDEE A. THOMAS

JEFFERSON — Many children like to watch television or play video games in their spare time, but not Lorali Nelms. She prefers more scholastic pursuits.

Each week, she makes a list of things she'd like to research and books that she'd like to read, and then she heads over to the Jefferson Public Library to get started.

"I have a library card and I like to check out encyclopedias," said the 6-year-old Jefferson Elementary School student. "I also love to learn about Dora (The Explorer) and I love reading all of the I.Q. books. (Her class paraprofessional) celebrates Hanukkah, so I like to read about that, too."

If you are surprised by Lorali's interest, you probably wouldn't be if you met her mother.

"I have two children in college and my 6-year-old Lorali, and we've been coming to this library ever since it opened in the late (1990s)," said Janice Nelms, who is also a teacher at Jefferson Elementary School.

"I've always brought my children to the library, even when they were very young. (Lorali and I) always come for story time and so that she can look up the different things that interest her. She loves the encyclopedias and she checks out 20 to 30 books a week."

As the economy has worsened, more and more parents and other Jackson County residents are taking a page out of Nelms' book and heading to the library for a little free entertainment.

"There is an inverse relationship between the economic climate and library usage," said Alan Harkness, who is the director of the Piedmont Regional Library System, which includes Jackson, Banks and Barrow counties.

"All libraries see their usage levels consistently go up whenever the economy is down."

Last month, the Jefferson Public Library recorded the highest number of books, more than 7,000, being checked out of any of the Jackson County public libraries within the Piedmont system.

Overall library usage is up throughout the Piedmont Regional Library System. According to system reports, the total circulation for November 2007 was 33,095. This past November, that total grew to 42,306.

The Piedmont Library System spans three counties: Barrow, Jackson and the Homer library in Banks County.

Though the Winder and Jefferson branches are consistently the busiest, Harkness said, the Braselton branch, funded by the town, is booming, especially after moving to a new location on Ga. 124 about two years ago.

Braselton has seen a 47 percent increase in traffic over the past year, while circulation at Winder has increased 53 percent, Commerce 55 percent and Jefferson 34 percent, according to library statistics.
Harkness said circulation is up 50 percent across the library system.

Already, Harkness said, 25 percent of Jackson County residents hold library cards and he expects that number to continue to increase.

Among other things, total circulation includes the number of books, audiotapes and videotapes being checked out.

The library isn't just a place to check out books anymore; now you can even borrow a CD or DVD.

"When times are tough in the economy, instead of going out to buy a book or movie, more people tend to save their money and borrow it from the library," Harkness said.

Attendance at children's programs has also increased within the system. Last November, a total of 1,438 people attended the programs. This year, that number increased to 1,769.

Nelms says there are other reasons besides saving a few dollars to bring your children to the library.

"I'm all for bringing your children to the library and showing them the different sections," she says. "I think it's important to read to your children as early as 6 months. I have two children in college who have done very well for themselves and I always attribute it to early reading."

Ben Holcombe of The Times regional staff contributed to this story.