Thursday, January 14, 2010

New survey shows U.S. public libraries in financial jeopardy

Cuts reduce hours, staffing at thousands of libraries as patron demand escalates

CHICAGO – Libraries have been on the front lines during the recession. U.S. public libraries have expanded available job resources, and more people are turning to libraries for technology access and help in applying for jobs and government assistance online, according to a new library survey. The survey also found, however, that half of states have reduced funding to public libraries and to state library agencies, and close to one-quarter of urban libraries have reduced open hours. Adequate staffing is the leading challenge to aiding job seekers.

More than three-quarters of all public libraries reported increased use of their public Internet computers over the past year, and 71 percent reported increased wireless use, according to the survey conducted by the American Library Association (ALA) and the Center for Library and Information Innovation at the University of Maryland in fall 2009.

Two-thirds (67 percent) of all libraries reported that staff members help patrons complete online job applications and offer software or other resources (69 percent) to help patrons create resumes and other employment materials. The vast majority of libraries surveyed provide access to job databases and other online resources (88 percent) and civil service exam materials (75 percent). Forty-two percent of urban libraries report offering classes related to job seeking, and about 27 percent collaborate with outside agencies or individuals to help patrons complete online job applications.

But just when people need their public libraries the most, funding for this valued resource is decreasing, as governments cut library budgets as a way of addressing state and local deficits. More than half of responding state library agencies (52 percent or 24 states) reported cuts in state funding for public libraries between FY2009 and FY2010; and 11 of these states reported cuts were greater than 11 percent, double what was reported last year. In addition, nearly 75 percent of state library agencies also have received cuts resulting in fewer available staff, reduced funding for library materials and subscription databases, and continuing education for public library staff and trustees.

More here.

The study is funded by the ALA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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