State of America's Libraries: Usage Soars, Funding Shrinks

Article excerpt

When jobs go away, Americans turn to their libraries to find information about future employment or educational opportunities. This library usage trend and others are detailed in the 2010 State of America's Libraries report, released April 11 by the American Library Association. The report shows that Americans have turned to their libraries in larger numbers in recent years.

Since the recession took hold in December 2007, the local library, a traditional source of free access to books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs, has become a lifeline, offering technology training and workshops on topics that ranged from resume-writing to job-interview skills.

The report shows the value of libraries in helping Americans combat the recession. It includes data from a January 2010 Harris Interactive poll that provides compelling evidence that a decade-long trend of increasing library use is continuing--and even accelerating during economic hard times. This national survey indicates that some 219 million Americans feel the public library improves the quality of life in their community. More than 223 million Americans feel that because it provides free access to materials and resources, the public library plays an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed.

And with more businesses and government agencies requiring applicants to apply online, job-seeking resources are among the most critical and most in-demand among the technology resources available in U.S. public libraries. Two-thirds of public libraries help patrons complete online job applications; provide access to job databases and other online resources (88%) and civil service exam materials (75%); and offer software or other resources (69%) to help patrons create resumes and other employment materials.

A sobering dichotomy

However, the report also shows that increased library use did not lead to an increase in funding for libraries. Research by the ALA and the Center for Library and Information Innovation at the University of Maryland suggests a "perfect storm" of growing community demand for library services and shrinking resources to meet that demand. While library use soars, a majority of states are reporting cuts in funding to public libraries and to the state library agencies that support them.

Other key trends detailed in the 2010 State of America's Libraries Report:

* Internet use continues to expand at public libraries, which have seen double-digit growth since 2007 in the online services they make available to their patrons. More than 71% of public libraries provide their community's only free public access to computers and the internet, according to an article in the November 2009 issue of American Libraries (p. 14). Wireless access also continues to grow and is now offered at more than 80% of public libraries.

* Ninety-six percent of Americans feel that school libraries are an essential part of the education experience because they provide resources to students and teachers and because they give every child the opportunity to read and learn. School librarians play a crucial role in "keeping the digital doors open to help young people think about learning beyond the classroom," according to one authority on online social networking sites. …