The State of America’s Libraries, 2010

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Executive summary

Hard times bring libraries’ value into sharper focus. As the recession that took hold in December 2007 drags on into 2010, Americans are turning to their libraries in ever larger numbers for access to resources for employment, continuing education, and government services. 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 that ranged from résumé-writing to job-interview skills.

These and other key trends in the library community are detailed in this report on the State of America’s Libraries, 2010.

Data from a January 2010 Harris Interactive poll provide compelling evidence that a decade-long trend of increasing library use is continuing—and even accelerating during economic hard times. The national survey indicates that some 219 million Americans feel the public library improves the quality of life in their community, an increase from 209.8 million reported in 2006. Survey data also indicate that more than 223 million Americans feel that because it provides free access to materials and resources, the public library plays an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed.

And with more businesses and government agencies requiring applicants to apply on line, job-seeking resources are among the most critical and most in demand among the technology resources available in U.S. 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 help patrons create resumes and other employment materials.

Funding for libraries did not follow suit. In fact, research conducted in 2009 by the American Library Association (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. The study found that while library use soared, a majority of states reported cuts in state funding to public libraries and to the state library agencies that support libraries and statewide library programs.

But even after making deep cuts, states continue to face large budget gaps, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. New shortfalls opened up in the budgets of at least 41 states for fiscal 2010, which in most states began July 1, 2009. And when the ALA surveyed members of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies in November 2009, the public-library funding landscape continued to look bleak. Of states reporting decreases in local funding to public libraries, the majority were in the 5-10 percent range. Seventeen respondents reported they believed a majority of libraries in their states had sustained cuts in local funding in fiscal 2010, compared with fiscal 2009, while only two reported that a majority of libraries in their state had received funding increases.

State libraries also reported that state funding, usually in the form of state aid packages, had declined. Twenty-four respondents reported cuts in state funding for public libraries from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2010. Seven states and the District of Columbia do not provide state funding. Furthermore, cuts at the state level frequently were compounded by cuts at the local level and cuts in the state library agency budget, and there was a significant increase in the number of libraries reporting that they are open fewer hours each week.

Meanwhile, the Internet thrives at public libraries, which have seen double-digit growth since 2007 in the on-line services they make available to their patrons. 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. The number of libraries offering homework resources in 2009 was almost 80 percent, while 73 percent offered audio content, 62 percent virtual reference, 55 percent e-books, and 51 percent video content. The authors’ data are drawn from responses to the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study and its predecessor Public Libraries and the Internet study.

Wireless access in public libraries continues to grow, increasing from about 54 percent in 2007 to 82.2 percent in 2010, and even libraries in the smallest communities are using this option to increase access for their patrons. Not surprisingly, library staff play a key role in helping people become successful technology users. Thirty-five percent of libraries offer technology training classes, and 53 percent provide point-of-use assistance. Urban libraries are more likely than rural libraries to offer classes (52.5 percent and 24 percent, respectively), while public libraries in smaller communities are more likely to provide informal (point-of-use) and online training.

School libraries also receive good grades in national surveys, which indicate that 96-plus percent of Americans feel they are an essential part of the education experience because they provide resources to students and teachers and because they give every child the opportunity to read and learn. The role of school libraries continued to grow in 2009, with school libraries open, on average, 1½ hours more per week than in 2008, according to a survey conducted by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the ALA.

School librarians also play a crucial role in “keeping the digital doors open to help young people think about learning beyond the classroom,” according to danah boyd, an authority on online social networking sites and a keynote speaker at the AASL’s 2009 national conference.

But “School Libraries Count! AASL’s National Longitudinal Survey of School Library Media Programs” shows that a majority of schools received less funding for information resources in 2009 than they had in 2008. The survey revealed that there was no increase in the average number of teachers who are also school librarians, and that school librarians worked an average of almost an hour a week more in 2009 than in 2008.

Academic libraries are experiencing increased use, both physical and virtual. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that during a typical week in fiscal 2008, U.S. academic libraries had more than 20.3 million visits (1.5 million more than in fiscal 2006), answered more than 1.1 million reference questions, and made more than 498,000 presentations to groups. Seventy-two percent of academic libraries reported providing library reference service by e-mail or the Web.
Almost 95 percent of students use their academic library’s website at least once a week, according to a study on students and technology by the Educause Center for Applied Research, and the proportion of students who reported using the library’s website daily increased from 7.1 percent in 2006 to 16.9 percent in 2009. Project Information Literacy found that nine out of 10 college students surveyed 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.”

Not surprisingly, more and more academic-library resources now start with an ‘e-’. Although in 2008 academic libraries added 24 million books, serial back files, and other paper materials including government documents, 3.4 million current serial subscriptions, and 3.4 million audiovisual materials units, the shift to e-resources continues to accelerate. Academic libraries added 20 million e-books in 2008, bringing the total to about 102.5 million—a breathtaking two-year increase of 59.4 percent from the 64.3 million held in fiscal 2006, according to the NCES. Electronic reference sources and aggregation services also rose sharply . . . as did expenses: Academic libraries’ expenditures for electronic serial subscriptions increased to $1 billion in fiscal 2008 from $691.6 million in 2006, according to the ALA Office of Research and Statistics.

America ’s libraries continue their efforts to serve minorities and other underserved or disadvantaged populations. A few examples from the past year or so:

  • The ALA’s Spectrum Scholarship Program awarded 48 scholarships in 2009 to members of underrepresented groups to help them pursue master’s degrees. The Spectrum program also provides access to a network of library professionals, ALA support in finding a position in the field, and free admission to national and local professional development events.
  • Library associations and the Library Copyright Alliance continued their efforts in 2009 to ensure that people with visual disabilities will continue to be afforded the same access to copyrighted materials as sighted persons.
  • Students with disabilities often wait weeks or months for their textbooks to be specially formatted, but now a new higher-education partnership could make these books more widely available to students by scanning them into an online library. Bookshare, a non-profit company, announced in April that 11 colleges and universities would contribute thousands of books to students who are blind, have low vision, or are unable to turn pages, reducing duplication and proofreading costs.
  • Thirty-four libraries got a boost in 2009 in their efforts to develop innovative and exemplary literacy services for adult English-language learners. The American Dream Starts @ your library initiative served urban, rural, and suburban libraries with patron populations ranging in size from 850 to more than a million. (The American Dream Starts @ your library is funded by the Dollar General Foundation and administered by the ALA.)

It has long been a core value of the ALA and of librarians to preserve, protect, and defend the First Amendment and the corollary right to receive and consider ideas, information, and images. Libraries are essential sources of the information that is essential to the functioning of a free and democratic society, and librarians serve as guardians of the public’s access to that information, and to ideas more generally.

The library community was tested time and again in the past year and stood up for this most basic freedom; it encountered new challenges as a range of individuals and groups sought to have books or other materials removed from public access, and as the government debated extending the life of intrusive legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act.

Legislators grappled with extension of that measure into 2010, but the Obama administration decided in May 2009 not to ask the Supreme Court to review a decision that struck down PATRIOT Act provisions that allowed the government to impose unconstitutional gag orders on recipients of national security letters. NSLs issued by the FBI require recipients to turn over sensitive information about their clients and subscribers. A lower court had ruled in 2007 that the gag order provisions were unconstitutional, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld that ruling in 2008. 

The outcome would have been gratifying to Judith Krug, a champion of First Amendment rights who died on April 11, 2009. Krug, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, was admired and respected for her efforts to guarantee the rights of individuals to express ideas and read the ideas of others without governmental interference. As director of the OIF and executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation for more than 40 years, she advised countless librarians and trustees in dealing with challenges to library material and was involved in multiple First Amendment cases that went to the United States Supreme Court. In addition, she was the founder of Banned Books Week, an annual weeklong event that celebrates the freedom to choose and the freedom to express one’s opinion.

Other developments discussed in more detail in the State of America’s Libraries, 2010:

  • The increase in social networking suggests a set of skills that librarians should possess as social networking–literate information professionals capable of implementing library services and using information at social networking sites. These include skills for interacting with patrons within the sites, understanding and articulating the nature of social networking sites and their potential roles related to library services, creating presences and content, evaluating and applying information, and being able to help patrons acquire and apply these skills.
  • Library construction fared better in 2009 than many expected during the recession, especially given the unreliability of funding for programming, materials, and hours. The answer may be that money earmarked years ago was seeing construction through to conclusion; state-level support has helped out in some cases but defaulted in others. Many of the new libraries and renovations show a timely concern for the environment.
  • A Feb. 18, 2010, hearing in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York was to have been the culmination of the Google’s Book Search project case, which had worked its way through courts of law and of public opinion since 2002, when Google conceived its “secret books project.” By 2009, seemingly every organization in the world that has anything to do with books had checked in on Google’s plan to digitize and make generally available every book—famous or not, in any language, published anywhere on Earth—found in the world’s libraries. But the judge announced in February that he would not rule immediately because there was “just too much to digest.”



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