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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Libraries in the News

Recently, (a genealogical website) posted an infographic detailing American use of and attitudes toward public libraries. The results were encouraging: 59% of the U.S. population uses the public library system, and 81% of people agree that their library deserves more funding. That makes sense in light of a number of studies that show a positive correlation between library spending and student performance.1 Unfortunately, that same graphic shows that federal funding for libraries has been cut sharply over recent years, and we all know only too well the reality of those budget cuts.

Libraries Hurting
With funds being cut, many libraries are cutting hours, reducing staff and services, and cutting back on purchasing new materials. Others are looking for new revenue sources. For example, the Santa Clara County Public Library in California is instituting an annual fee of $80 for non-residents in an effort to make up for a potential loss of $1.3 million in funding.2 However, this policy is just as likely to drive away non-resident patrons as it is to generate revenue—an issue acknowledged by library officials.

Still, that may be better than the alternative. Some library systems are being forced to consider closing branches. Among that group is the Denver Public Library, which is facing a $2.5 million budget reduction for 2012 and has advised the mayor and city council that seven to twelve branches likely need to be closed.3 However, no final decision has been made on the branches’ fate as library staff and concerned citizens look at ways to create sustainable funding for the library system.

In Michigan, the Troy Public Library was saved from closure even after the city council voted to shut it down due to lack of funding.4 A large turnout at a public meeting on the library’s fate likely swayed the decision, although it may be just a temporary reprieve. In an effort to remind citizens what the library means to the city, the library staff has posted a number of letters from celebrities and other notable personalities received when the library first opened.

Storms in the South
In another area of the U.S., libraries are facing problems not related to budgetary concerns. The recent spate of tornadoes in the South has taken a major toll on libraries in Alabama, including three that may be unsalvageable.5 However, libraries that were still standing became community centers for areas and people affected by the storms, offering Internet access and electricity for charging cell phones as citizens tried to get in touch with loved ones. Anyone wishing to offer support to Alabama libraries should contact state librarian Rebecca Mitchell at

On a Lighter Note
However, not all is doom and gloom in the world of public libraries. There are things worth celebrating as well. The American Institute of Architects recently handed out its Library Design Awards, selecting four libraries in the U.S. and one in Saudi Arabia for their architectural merit.6

In Maryland, the Wicomico Public Library is garnering a reputation for its extensive collection of music CDs.7 Patrons relish the ability to check out new artists they may (or may not) enjoy for free; librarians enjoy offering the music for its own sake, but also as a means to get people into the library who may not otherwise come. Capitalizing on this opportunity, other libraries (including the New York Public Library system) have begun offering their patrons the ability to download music digitally.

An Interesting Time
With budget reductions and the infusion of digital media in all formats, it’s a time of transition for many library systems, and most librarians must wear many hats. So tell us: what are things like at your library? We want to hear about the challenges you face, but also the rewards you find in facing those challenges and serving your communities. Leave us your thoughts in the comments section below.


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