Tuesday, September 2, 2008

AP story on Library use and the economy

Take heart, financially strapped Library budgeteers! The AP published a story called

In an economic bind, families turn to libraries

It was carried (in an heavily edited form) in the Wall Street Journal. A patron pointed it out to me this morning. I passed it on via email to my County Coordinator, perhaps y'all could do the same with your budget makers.

Here are some key points (IOW, my own edited version):

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Check it out.

That's what users of public libraries are doing in record numbers these days. In an effort to stay entertained and informed without breaking the family budget, Americans across the U.S. are increasingly taking advantage of the best deal in town: everything -- books, CDs, even video game sessions -- is free.

"When the economy goes down, public library use goes up," said John Moorman, director of the Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia.

While the trend bodes well in the long-term for libraries, whose funding depends on visits and circulation, it is placing strain on branches faced with tighter budgets as counties try to keep spending in check.

The American Library Association says usage nationwide was 10 percent higher in the past year than during the 2001 economic downturn, when it tracked a similar spike in visits and circulation. Libraries recorded 1.3 billion visits and patrons checked out more than 2 billion items from April 2007 to April 2008.

Libraries aren't only being affected by the difficult economy, they're trying to help guide patrons through it.

The Queens Library in New York, which is the highest circulation public library system in the nation, is offering seminars for people facing foreclosure. And in the small California town of Lompoc, which was hit this year by layoffs at local employers, the public library has a computer reserved for people searching and applying for jobs online.

A bad economy is also a mixed blessing for libraries.

In Bartholomew County, Ind., the public library has frozen hiring and postponed buying some new items until 2009. The Jackson-Madison County Library in Tennessee was warned in August it may have to lay off some of its 20 full-time employees. And a proposal by the Long Beach, Calif. city government to save $1.8 million by closing the library's main branch has drawn protests from residents and famed author Ray Bradbury.

As local governments struggle with falling tax revenues, more libraries could be facing similar threats.

"When the economy gets tough for people, it usually takes a year before it gets tough on counties and municipalities," said Jim Rettig, president of the American Library Association and a librarian at the University of Richmond.

Without public support, library budgets can be tempting targets for governments looking to cut.

Consequently, some librarians see the surge as a chance to make people not only habitual patrons, but advocates for libraries.

"It's a good time to educate people about all the benefits the library brings to their community," Moorman said.

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