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

Contacts: Macey Morales / Jennifer Petersen
ALA Media Relations
312-280-4393 / 312-280-5043
mmorales@ala.org / jpetersen@ala.org

NEWS
For Immediate Release
January 14, 2010 

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. Funding for Pennsylvania’s Office for Commonwealth Libraries, for instance, was cut in half and reduced staff levels from 56 to 21.

“Public libraries are uniquely positioned to provide a full range of resources American families rely on as they trim expenses and seek employment,” said ALA President Camila Alire. “As the poor economy continues to fuel deep library budget cuts, I’m haunted by the notion that for each hour a library is closed, and for every service lost, thousands will lose the opportunity to better their lives through education.”

Decreased funding has impacted staffing levels at many public libraries. The number one challenge affecting libraries’ ability to help job seekers is a lack of adequate staff to effectively help patrons with their job-seeking needs. Almost 60 percent of libraries surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that the library does not have enough staff to help patrons with job-seeking needs. Forty-six percent agreed or strongly agreed that library staff does not have the necessary skills to meet patron demand; and about 36 percent agreed or strongly agreed the library has too few public computers to meet demand.

The number of libraries reporting a decrease in operating hours increased significantly. Nearly one-quarter of urban libraries and 14.5 percent of all libraries (up from 4.5 percent last year) report their operating hours have decreased since the previous fiscal year. Nationally, this translates to lost hours at more than 2,400 public library branches.

  • The Broward County (Fla.) Library System has lost 28 percent of its funding and one-third of its staff positions in three years, while circulation has increased 27 percent over the same period.  Libraries are also now closed on Sundays.
  • Washoe County (Nev.) Library System, has experienced cuts of nearly 40 percent over the last two years and is expecting additional reductions in July. Libraries are open 25 percent fewer hours, and library staff has been reduced by nearly 30 percent. 
  • Libraries in Seattle and Clark County, Ohio, were shuttered for more than a week to satisfy budget reductions.

Thirteen state libraries (28 percent) reported they were aware of public library closures in the past 12 months. Twelve states reported closures of five or fewer libraries; and one state (Indiana) reported more than five closures in the past year.

For more information on the survey, please visit www.ala.org/plinternetfunding. The study is funded by the ALA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.