the state of america's libraries 2011: a report from the american libary association

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Libraries continue to pull their weight in a weak economy

Data shows that 20 percent of Americans — more than twice the current unemployment rate — have been affected by a negative change in their employment status due to the recent recession.

And Americans who reported a negative job impact are more likely to use the library more frequently than those not affected and find greater value with both the library and the assistance from the librarian, according to a report, “ Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community,” released in January .

Nevertheless, several Fox TV affiliates aired a segment June 28, 2010, titled: “ Are Libraries Necessary, or a Waste of Tax Money?” The answer should have been apparent before the question was even asked: Gate counts and circulation documented that libraries were more in demand than ever, and patrons were not about to surrender their neighborhood research and recreation hubs to budget cuts.

But even more powerful in an era of budget-slashing was a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government that provided bottom-line evidence that the return on investment in library service more than justifies the costs.

The first-ever economic impact study about Philadelphia’s public libraries, “ The Economic Value of the Free Library of Philadelphia (PDF),” concludes that the library created more than $30 million worth of economic value to the city in fiscal 2010 and that the library had a particularly strong impact on business development and employment. Among the highlights of the report, issued in October 2010:

  • Survey respondents said they couldn’t have started, sustained or grown an estimated 8,600 businesses without the resources they acquired at the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP). Direct economic impact: Almost $4 million.
  • About 1,000 said they had found work thanks to FLP resources, pumping $30 million in salaries into the economy and $1.2 million in tax revenue into the community.
  • Philadelphia homes located within a quarter-mile of a branch library were worth an average of $9,630 more than homes outside that radius, an indication that the presence of a library is associated with larger real estate tax revenues.

The findings were based on statistics from all FLP branches, a survey of 3,971 FLP patrons and 85 librarians, interviews with 17 librarians and 33 library patrons at 14 branches and Census data and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for the City of Philadelphia.

“Until now, there hasn’t been a way to know exactly how much we help in dollars and cents,” FLP President and Director Siobhan A. Reardon stated. “Through this groundbreaking study we put a figure to our services, providing hard evidence that we are more than a nice community resource — we’re an integral economic engine for the city of Philadelphia.”

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“Our Authors, Our Advocates”

Librarians and authors have long enjoyed a mutual admiration society, but 2010 saw their love affair grow more passionate as ALA 2010-2011 President Roberta A. Stevens established “ Our Authors, Our Advocates” as a major initiative.

Recognizing the need for new forms of advocacy, Stevens, at her inauguration at the association’s 2010 Annual Conference, did not give a speech but passed the microphone to Marie Arana, Sharon Draper, Carmen Agra Deedy and Brad Meltzer, who spoke about the value of libraries and librarians. Her objective, Stevens said, was to establish a cadre of nationally known writers who are ready and willing to speak out on behalf of libraries.

She succeeded.

More writers –– including Scott Turow, Sara Paretsky, David Baldacci, Tony DiTerlizzi, John Grisham, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Mo Willems, Neil Gaiman and Kathy Reichs –– have come forward, not just to encourage people to read but to support libraries with aggressive advocacy. They and others have recorded public service announcements for libraries, the popular Gaiman served as chair of National Library Week in 2010 and Toni Morrison delivered what American Libraries called “a passionate paean to libraries” at the ALA 2010 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. Grisham served as the honorary chair of National Library Week 2011, and several of the authors have written op-eds for media outlets to share their view of the enduring value of libraries. Stevens also participated in many media interviews to drive home the impact libraries have on the public’s efforts to find jobs and in creating a more literate society.

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Librarians still stand for the freedom to read

Libraries, bookstores –– and individuals –– continue to wage the battle against censorship. Once again, thousands of people celebrated the freedom to read during Banned Books Week (Sept. 25–Oct. 2, 2010) at rallies nationwide, reading from banned or challenged books and discussing the impact censorship has on civil liberties.

Since it began compiling data, in 1990, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has received more than 11,000 reports on book challenges, formal written requests to have a book removed from a library or classroom because of an objection to its content. Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” which is set in the London of A.D. 2540 and tries to envision what society might be like then, appears to be a perennial “favorite” in this category; it appeared as No. 3 on the OIF’s Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books for 2010, topped only by “And Tango Makes Three” (by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson) and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” (by Sherman Alexie). “Tango” was published in 2005, and “Absolutely True Diary” in 2007; “Brave New World,” on the other hand, has been stimulating would-be censors almost continuously since its publication –– in 1932.

Other skirmishes in 2010 occurred in Burlington County, N. J., where a complaint from a resident led to the removal of “Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology,” a critically acclaimed anthology, from both the high school and public libraries; and in Stockton, Mo., where the Stockton R-1 School Board voted to ban Alexie’s “Absolutely True Diary” from both the high school curriculum and the library. The controversy in Stockton seems to have had a virus-like quality to it, since it triggered an outbreak of challenges to other books in the region.

“Not every book is right for each reader,” said the ALA’s Stevens, “but we should have the right to think for ourselves and allow others to do the same.

“The founders of this nation protected freedom of expression based on their conviction that a diversity of views and ideas is necessary for a vital, functioning democracy,” Stevens said. “Danger does not arise from viewpoints other than our own; the danger lies in allowing others to decide for us and our communities which reading materials are appropriate.”

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the ALA, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of American Publishers, and the National Association of College Stores. It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

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And at a glance . . .

Although public outcry couldn’t entirely curtail layoffs and trimmed operating hours, boosters managed to keep the vast majority of public-library doors open to accommodate millions of visitors seeking job-search assistance, storytimes, book clubs, and other programming. Libraries themselves have not stood idly by. ALA chapters in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio and South Carolina have created — or helped create — websites dedicated to saving the libraries in their states, and the ALA is hosting a clearinghouse website that tracks the effort and offers tips on how to spread the word.


School libraries in high-poverty areas took a hit in 2010, with big drops in spending on information resources and in collection size. However, most school districts managed to escape the economic trials of 2010 largely unscathed, according to the 2010 version of the School Libraries Count! survey conducted annually by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the ALA.


Meanwhile, many academic libraries have faced budget cuts and restructuring. A survey in September 2010 indicated that nearly 42 percent of U.S. university libraries reported budget cuts and that many planned to reduce spending on information resources (69.1 percent) and staffing (30.5 percent).


And at libraries of all kinds, technology continued to advance in high gear. Librarians labored –– largely with success –– to keep up and to harness the power of social networking, which was also expanding and changing almost by the minute.

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