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 today 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 résumé-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 on line, 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 percent) and civil service exam materials (75 percent); and offer software or other resources (69 percent) to help patrons create résumés and other employment materials.
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 on-line services they make available to their patrons. More than 71 percent 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. Wireless access also continues to grow and is now offered at more than 80 percent 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. However, funding for school libraries also lags.
- America’s academic libraries are experiencing increased use, both physical and virtual. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports academic libraries have more than 20.3 million visits per week (1.5 million more than two years earlier), answered more than 1.1 million reference questions, and made more than 498,000 presentations to groups. Almost 95 percent of students use their academic library’s website at least once a week, according to one study of students and technology, and nine out of 10 college students surveyed in another study said they turned to libraries “for online scholarly research databases . . . for conducting course-related research, valuing the resources for credible content, in-depth information, and the ability to meet instructors’ expectations.”
- America’s libraries continue their efforts to support minorities and other underserved or disadvantaged populations. The ALA’s Spectrum Scholarship Program, for example, awarded 48 scholarships in 2009 to members of underrepresented groups to help them pursue master’s degrees; and the library community remained committed to sustained efforts on behalf of people with visual and other disabilities and adult English-language learners.
- The library community continues to defend a core value embodied in the First Amendment and the corollary right to receive and consider ideas, information, and images. Librarians nationwide encountered new challenges as a range of individuals and groups sought to have books or other materials removed from public access, and as the federal government debated extending the life of intrusive legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act.
- Library construction fared better in 2009 than many expected during the recession, especially given the unreliability of funding for programming, materials, and hours. The answer may be that money earmarked years ago was seeing construction through to conclusion. Many of the new libraries and renovations show a timely concern for the environment.
The full text of The State of America’s Libraries, 2010, is available at http://tinyurl.com/State2010.