Ah, a breath of good news for Charleston County's public libraries as they struggle with the dueling challenges of soaring library use and tough budget cuts.
The Library Journal, a respected publication in the field, produced its first-ever starred rating of libraries with an eye toward showing what libraries provide to folks like you and me.
It's called the Index of Public Library Service and looked at 7,115 library systems across the country. Two in South Carolina landed on its star-rated list: the Charleston County Public Library and the Richland County Public Library.
The rating looks at what libraries output: things like circulation, visits, public Internet use and event attendance. In other words, the stuff we library users actually use.
"It is a reflection of how Charleston County residents have embraced the library and understand its importance as a vital cornerstone in the community," says Cynthia Bledsoe, the library system's acting director.
The ratings grouped libraries by budget size. That landed Charleston's library system in the budget category of $10 million to $29.9 million a year. With a budget of $13 million, Charleston went head-to-head with libraries whose budgets are more than twice as large.
Yet, libraries with more money and in larger communities didn't make the list.
"In the end, the public services we provide to Charleston County residents caused us to rise to the top and be named one of the best libraries in the nation," says Jamie Thomas, spokeswoman for the Charleston County Public Library.
The laurel comes as Charleston County libraries, and libraries in all counties here, are busier than ever with fewer resources to meet demands.
We've all heard by now that more people are using libraries to save money by checking out books and movies rather than buying and renting. And others are using library resources to find jobs and new training.
As if to emphasize all that they offer, the county libraries are offering tons of events and classes in May, all free, all open to the public.
You'll find everything from Wii Game Day to film discussions to events tied to the North Charleston Arts Festival.
I can't include them all here, so check out the library system's Web site at www.ccpl.org or call 805-6930 for more.
Here are highlights:
-- Check out art displays all month at the Main Library on Calhoun Street, including an exhibit by sculptor Michael Morrison, who uses reclaimed and reused objects in his works. You'll also see 25 pieces by children from The Palmetto Project's Yo Art Project.
-- A host of programs come along with the North Charleston Arts Festival, including violinists, a saxophonist, ghost tales and multicultural storytelling, songs and stories. For instance, you can see Kinetyx Dance Ensemble of Charlotte perform "Science in Motion," which illustrates life forms and cycles, simple machines and the laws of motion. It's at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Otranto Road branch. And there's a Mojo Collins blues music show at 6 p.m. May 6 at the Cooper River Memorial Library.
-- Teens can join a library advisory board. What programs, services and materials would make the libraries better serve young adults? Come at 4 p.m. May 14 to the Otranto Road library armed with ideas.
-- Come to an All You Can Read Buffet and see if you can read longer than anyone else. Ages 12-17 can win a $15 Barnes & Noble gift card. It's a kick-off for the libraries' summer reading program 4-7 p.m. May 26 at the Otranto Road library.
-- As part of Piccolo Spoleto, kiddie music fans like me can hear Lunch Money live in concert at 9:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. May 27 at the Main Library.
And there are many timely (and still free) programs for adults dealing with financial doldrums, such as:
-- A legal clinic on bankruptcy law at 6 p.m. May 5 at the John's Island library.
-- A Tech Talk about using Web tools like blogging and social networking sites to improve your business. It's at 6 p.m. May 11 at the Main Library.
-- Learn about college financial aid at 6 p.m. May 12 at the St. Andrew's Library.
-- Learn to buy and sell on eBay at 6:30 p.m. May 20 at the Dorchester Road branch.
The library branches also offer tons of free computer classes about everything from e-mail and Internet basics to Web page and PowerPoint design.
So all of this deserves a little appreciation, right?
Show a little love for public libraries by joining a campaign called "Why I Love My Library." Go to www.statelibrary.sc.gov and click on the heart symbol. You also can submit forms at your local library.
Hey, in these hard times, let's all express a little thanks. And hit the free events and classes. They just might save you money and teach you a few things. Now that's good news for us all.