EDITORIAL: Libraries thrive in the age of computers — no joke

People here in Los Angeles are upset (about) the mayor's proposed plan to cut the budget of libraries. This could affect as many as nine people.

— Jay Leno, May 11 monologue

Despite what you may think, these cuts are no laughing matter to the 17 million people who use the city's libraries each year.

— Los Angeles City Librarian Martin Gomez, in response to Leno

We could almost feel sorry for Jay; one bad joke and he suffers the wrath of librarians not only in Los Angeles but also across the nation.

Frankly, though, he deserves it. In spite of Jay’s jape, business at public libraries — including libraries here in San Luis Obispo County — is booming.

Some of that is due to the economy. Rather than buying books or renting DVDs, for example, more and more families are turning to libraries.

Not only is usage up, libraries also have expanded services to meet public needs — including offering job-search workshops and help with writing resumes.

“We’re really trying to help people out in these times,” said Kristine Tardiff, San Luis Obispo Library manager.

Indeed, in an era when public disgust with officialdom is through the roof — just look at what’s happening in Bell — public library staffs have been quietly plugging away to maintain and even expand services, despite staff reductions.

Consider: Because of a countywide hiring “chill,” San Luis Obispo County’s Library system — which includes 15 branches — now has 76.5 full-time equivalent employees compared to 82 in August 2009. Yet the library system has been able to expand its programs, particularly in the downloadable realm.

That deserves praise — and an unabashed plug for our local libraries.

So if you haven’t checked out a library recently, we strongly urge you to reintroduce yourself and find out what it has to offer. You don’t even have to wait until your local branch is open. Start now at your computer, where you can download an array of books — absolutely free — to your iPod or MP3 player. And we aren’t talking about stale old titles, either.

Some samples of what’s available: James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride” series; Dave Barry’s latest, “I’ll Mature When I’m Dead”; and “Furious Love,” a new nonfiction book about the marriage of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Soon, the library also will offer books that can be downloaded free to certain e-readers.

If you’re more of a traditionalist, there are new programs at the physical libraries, too.

One we particularly like: A summer reading program for adults.

Here’s how it works: There are 10 reading assignments and adults who complete the list are eligible for prizes.

Certain branches offered adult summer reading programs before, but this is the first year that several branches joined together to issue a challenge.

Nearly 400 readers have signed up — not too shabby for the first year. We’re especially impressed with Los Osos, where 126 readers are registered.

If you’re interested, it’s not too late. The program runs through Aug. 21, and participating libraries are still accepting sign-ups.

But time is running out, so you might want to stay away from “War and Peace.”

And if you want to avoid biographies about Jay Leno, we’ll understand.