As Americans grapple with the economic downtown that has pinched their disposable income, more people than ever are turning to libraries for a both enrichment and enjoyment, reports the Connecticut Post. In recent years, libraries across the region have evolved into bustling meeting places where the public has easy–and often, free–access to electronic technology useful for both learning and entertainment. Maura Ritz, director of the Fairfield, Conn., Public Library, reported that circulation of all items borrowed from that town’s busy libraries is up about 16 percent over last year. Ritz is certain the nation’s sagging economy is the primary reason for the surge in library patronage. "We’re a lot busier," she said. "The library is a huge bargain. We offer an incredible selection of books, DVDs, and downloadable audio. … It’s for every age group." Ritz also points to higher use of the library’s children’s section by parents and caregivers looking for a fun, inexpensive place to take children a few hours a day. "Some parents won’t be able to afford a nursery school, and nobody offers what we do at no cost," Ritz said. The four branches of the Bridgeport Public Library are also attracting more patrons these days, according to City Librarian Scott Hughes. The surge took place over the past year and is particularly noticeable among people using library computers for internet access, he said. Twenty internet computers on the second floor of the main Burroughs-Saden Library "are usually all taken up," Hughes said. Visitors also wait to log onto the eight reference computers, which can be used to apply for jobs, create resumes, research colleges and universities, or prepare for graduate school entrance exams…

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