In less than a week, I've seen three news stories, two local and one national, about library usage in tough economic times. The stories all have the same refrain: libraries are getting more use than ever before, and the poor economy is a factor. Each story goes on to say that in spite of increased demand for library services, there is pressure from governing bodies forcing libraries to cut their budgets, their services, and, in some cities, to close neighborhood branches. From Alaska to Alabama, all the stories sound the same.
During the Great Depression, libraries became a haven for the jobless. They were a place to keep warm and occupied when there was widespread unemployment. In today's economy, libraries are more likely to see people using our PCs to search for a job or to replace the internet service that they can no longer afford at home. Other people are eschewing video stores in favor of our DVD and VHS collections. Frequent book buyers are becoming frequent book borrowers. Children's programs become more popular as other forms of entertainment become unaffordable.
It's significant that these stories are appearing as communities across the country prepare their budgets for the fiscal year starting July 1. As cities and towns--states, too--tighten their belts, I wonder how much influence these reports will have in keeping libraries open and viable for the people that really need them.