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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Libraries and the Economy

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 05, 2009

The speaker at the seminar stated, "government officials should contact their local library to determine the state of the economy."

 

She should know; her library career was just completing 50 years in public libraries with experience in several states and different sizes of public libraries.

 

A public library gets busier as the economy turns sour.

 

Like all public libraries, we are experiencing more people checking out more things from their local public library.

 

There are parts of the library shelves that are more than a little sparse, as the number of items checked out exceeds those checked in.

 

In times of economic downturn, people use libraries more to save on purchasing information from other sources.

 

In the 21st Century, people use libraries for computer access to the Internet when they can no longer afford home Internet access or the computer.

 

Many national media sources have been quoting the line that "people are rediscovering libraries," but I don't think people have lost libraries.

 

Nationally, the only time in recent history that library usage has stagnated was from 1997-1999, a time of economic prosperity.

 

Unfortunately, as public library usage increases, the funding of public libraries decreases as tax collection decline in time of economic strife.

 

Ohio's libraries are experiencing a decline of 15 percent in the Public Library Fund, which is following several years of no increases in the Fund.

 

Our budget for purchasing new library materials is only one-third what it was a decade ago, and we have 10 less staff than in 2001.

 

Things are different in the library this time when compared to earlier economic downturns.

 

First, we are now connected to an online system with 73 other libraries, containing a total of 5.8 million items.

 

We can share materials to meet requests, and move things among the 216 library outlets in those systems.

 

At the same time, the number of requests not found in those 5.8 million items has tripled over the last 5 years.

 

Secondly, your public library has become one of the last "public service desks" remaining in our society as other governmental offices and service agencies disappear behind a web page.

 

People come to the library because there are humans working in a customer service capacity.

 

And finally, public libraries are a place and people can't exist at a computer screen all the time.

 

Public libraries have more "stuff" than we used to, yet our purpose of providing information remains unchanged over the decades.

 

All that has changed are the tools that we can use to provide that information to the public.

 

So, here we are ready for you to visit your public library.