A new study published jointly by the American Library Association and the University of Maryland College Park reveals that decreases in library funding are making it difficult for libraries to meet their communities’ increasing demand for library resources.
The study is a perfect follow up to a previous post in which I discussed whether libraries are relevant today. I argued that libraries, far from being obsolete in today’s technology-driven society, are multifaceted cultural, educational, and philanthropic institutions that are continually offerring important services to their communities. Though some believe that slashing funding to libraries is justified because they are now unneeded, I pointed out (as many have) that libraries are finding ways to help their communities with new technology. Besides, I wrote, libraries do far more for their communities than just lend reading materials.
This recent study’s data support my point. According to the study — the largest study of internet connectivity in libraries since 1994 — 56% of urban libraries, 36% of suburban libraries, and 26% of rural libraries reported decreased budgets. In turn, decreased operating hours went up to 16%. All of this while, simultaneously, 70% of libraries have reported increased use of technology resources such as public access computers and e-books.
Libraries are also providing new people-driven services that help patrons cope with the floundering economy. According to the ALA study, libraries reported that services for job seekers are their most important public service. Over 74% of libraries provide software and other services to help people find employment and 72% of libraries reported that staff had helped patrons complete online job applications. (To add my own evidence, having worked in my particular department of the Evanston Library for just over three weeks, I have already helped patrons do this countless times.) Yet, over half of libraries in the study reported that they did not have enough staff to meet the needs of their job-seeking patrons.
Offering still more to their communities, libraries are taking action in response to the fact that — even though masses still lack access to computer literacy education — it is becoming increasingly necessary to be competent with computers. The authors of the study write, “[A]s government agencies eliminate print forms and close satellite offices, public libraries are the front lines, connecting people with essential e-government resources.” Again helping their communities handle the transition, almost 68% of libraries reported that staff provided assistance with e-government services and 25% reported that they had formed partnerships with local government agencies and nonprofits to provide e-government services.
And finally, as e-books’ popularity has increased, the number of libraries offering them has increased 30%.
The study reveals the obvious-but-troubling theme that the public’s need for libraries is intensifying during the very time that library funding is decreasing. Indeed, technology is proliferating, changing our society and day-to-day lives. But far from making libraries obsolete, it appears that the opposite is true: technology itself is causing an increase in the public demand for libraries.
–Jonathan T, Periodicals