About the time the unemployment rate started to rise a couple of years ago, librarian Elizabeth Mueller came to recognize a regular visitor.
The man showed up every day at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library and leafed through books, magazines and newspapers in an effort to find a job. After a year, he landed one and told Mrs. Mueller.
He was one of the lucky ones.
Since then, more and more people have crowded area public libraries and rifled the shelves as they search for better ways to write a resume, look for advice on career changes or scan the want ads.
"Difficult economic times are traditionally the busiest for public libraries," said Elaine Williamson, manager of the main branch of the St. Petersburg Public Library.
Some shelves often are empty, and some periodicals and newspapers are well worn.
"The resume books are never in," said John Callahan, library services manager at the Hernando County Public Library in Brooksville.
And issues of newspapers such as the National Business Employment Weekly and National Ad Search are likely to be in use, said Carolyn Moore, co-director of the Clearwater Public Library.
Ms. Moore said there is grumbling when an ad is cut out or a classified section from a newspaper is missing.
"We hear about it," she said.
Ms. Williamson said requests at the reference desk are on the rise, too.
In particular, more people are interested in learning about specific companies, she said.
The reference requests at the St. Petersburg Library were up from 4,602 in January 1991 to 5,591 in January 1992, said Ms. Williamson.
In addition, the libraries themselves are more crowded.
The unemployed have added to the ranks of people simply hanging out at the library because they have no better place to go.
"We have our regulars," said Mrs. Mueller in Tampa, "but there's a noticeable increase in job hunters."
Callahan said retirees tend to be the regulars in Brooksville, but he lately has noticed more younger people in the mix.
In Crystal River, more young people are coming in searching for books, such as how to obtain a government grant to start a small business, said Dee Bange, circulation manager for the coastal region library of Citrus County.
However, in Pasco County there hasn't been an influx of working-age people visiting the library or a big increase in demand for job-related books. "We haven't seen much change," said Gene Coppola, branch manager of the Pasco County Public Library in Hudson.
Hard economic times affect libraries in another way.
Even people with jobs are more cautious about spending, so they check out more books.
"The economy affects pleasure reading, too," said Ms. Williamson in St. Petersburg.