“In a world where knowledge is power, libraries help make everyone more powerful. With more than 16,600 locations serving people of all ages in communities of all sizes, America’s public libraries have a wide reach and a vital mission to connect people with the resources they need to thrive.
“In the grip of one of the most severe recessions since the Great Depression, more Americans are turning to their libraries not only for free access to books, magazines, CDs and DVDs, but also for a lifeline to technology training and online resources for employment, continuing education and government resources. In January 2009, over 25 million Americans reported using their public library more than 20 times in the last year, up from 20.3 million Americans in 2006.”
One of the cruel paradoxes governing public libraries is the incontestable fact that demand for their services rises abruptly during times of economic crisis, while, contemporaneously, appropriations for their support decline precipitously.
The inevitable result is that libraries are closed or reduce their service hours at the very time they are most needed.
Exactly how many libraries have been forced to close their doors during the current recession? The journal American Libraries quotes the American Library Association Office for Research and Statistics as reporting that “the most recent information we have from the Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study was gathered during the fall of 2009, and the news has certainly gotten worse since then. At that time, 13 state library agencies reported they were aware of library closures in their states due to budget issues. Twelve states reported it was fewer than five, with Indiana reporting between 5-10 closures of branches.”
They further suggest that a reduction of service hours is “more common, and likely will continue to be more common. In the public library survey folks completed last year, we saw a significant increase in the number of libraries reporting decreased operating hours: nearly 15% of libraries nationwide, and 24% for urban libraries. [my emphasis] At the same time of course, libraries have expanded resources for job seekers and seen increased use of their technology resources.”
For much more on this topic, see the American Library Association’s 11-page study A Perfect Storm: Budget Cuts Threaten Public Library Services At Time of Increased Demand.