Walk into any Beaufort County Public Library branch and the first thing you'll see is that you are surrounded by what librarians call "materials." Of course, materials include books -- hardcover books; paperbacks; books on tape, compact disc or play-away; reference books -- music CDs and movies on DVD. This is a familiar experience and a comforting one, reminding us of school or childhood days when the library was a world of discovery and not simply a place to check our e-mail or how the stocks in our retirement portfolio are doing.
For some of us, the library is new and can be scary because we never had a place to go for help or information. For others the library is their foothold, their best hope to look for skills training and information to find a new job to keep them from falling victim to the difficult times that many of us face.
If our county library system is the sum of the resources it holds, then it holds the greatest of all the resources Beaufort County can find -- its people. On Feb. 27, the library systems' annual open house brought more than 2,500 people into the library branches on one day -- a record number. So let's take a look at our public library, not by the books or the words on the page but by the story that is told by the numbers.
From July 2009 to February 2010, our five branch libraries signed up more than 10,000 new library card holders. That's mostly because Beaufort county residents have, like so many in our nation, had to face tough financial times. The public library system provides free resources and services to all residents. If you're a family, then borrowing movies and children's books and do-it-yourself manuals might help you spend less each month while still enjoying the simple things in life. If you're out of work or looking to upgrade your skills, the library can provide you with a free computer class, individual help to guide your job search, reference to other community resources or help writing your resume.
The March report from the S.C. Employment Commission said that South Carolina's unemployment rate tied its record high in January at 12.6 percent and that jobless numbers went up in all of the state's 46 counties.Numbers do tell the story. Since July 2009, the public library systemof Beaufort County Public Library System has increased the number of reference questions (libraries call these "transactions") it answers by 50 percent.
Even the virtual branch library -- www.beaufortcountylibrary.org  -- has seen a significant increase since it was revamped in early 2009. From July 2009 through February 2010, it's received a total of 232,083 hits.
Numbers, by nature, are signposts of truth. Next time you need opportunities for learning, leisure or to enhance your life or the lives of your family, think of your public library system.
When you walk into one of our branches, you're not just a number, you are the reason we are there to serve.