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April 27, 2010 > Libraries in great demand

Libraries in great demand

Submitted By Jennifer Petersen

When jobs are lost, Americans turn to libraries for information about employment or educational opportunities. The 2010 State of America's Libraries report released on April 22, by the American Library Association, details this library usage trend and shows 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 ranging from résumé-writing to job-interview skills.

The report shows libraries help 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 continues and even accelerates in hard times. Some 219 million Americans feel the public library improves the quality of life in their community. More than 223 million Americans feel free access to materials and resources means the public library plays an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed.

As more businesses and government agencies require online applications, job-search resources are among the most critical and most in demand among the technology resources available in US 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 create résumés and other employment materials.

However, increased library use has not resulted in more 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 with double-digit growth since 2007. 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. More than 80 percent of public libraries offer wireless access.

Ninety-six percent of Americans feel school libraries are an essential part of education because they provide resources to students and teachers and give every child the opportunity to read and learn. School librarians are crucial 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 physical and virtual use. 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 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 under-represented 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 than expected in 2009, given the recession and the unreliability of funding for programming, materials, and hours. Perhaps construction completion was funded by monies earmarked years ago. Many of the new libraries and renovations incorporate green building standards.

View "The State of America's Libraries, 2010" at

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