Public libraries have experienced significant growth in programming since 2012. The number of public programs offered per capita has jumped 27.5% while the number of programs attended per capita has risen 16.9%. The Public Library Association (PLA) is responding to this trend by offering relevant initiatives designed to help public libraries offer targeted programs around issues that matter most to patrons. These include locating reliable health information, learning the skills needed to thrive in today’s digital economy, helping children and families succeed in school and life, and purchasing affordable health insurance.
Involvement with the 2020 Census
The 2020 Census, for the first time in US history, will be conducted primarily online. With guidance from PLA and the American Library Association (ALA), public libraries will play an essential role in helping their communities be counted. PLA and ALA are engaging with the US Census Bureau and other stakeholders to ensure that libraries are informed and represented in policy discussions and planning processes. For the 2010 Census, more than 6,000 library locations hosted Census Bureau outreach activities, and even more are expected to do so for 2020.
Homelessness and addiction
Homelessness and addiction are two of the most difficult issues facing communities today. They often go hand in hand. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development serves more than 1 million people through emergency, transitional, and permanent housing programs each year. But the total number of people experiencing homelessness could be as high as 2 million.
Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die from an opioid overdose. Addiction to opioids is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as the social and economic welfare of American citizens. As its impact is felt in communities across the country, many public libraries are jumping in to respond. For example, Blount County (Tenn.) Public Library offers life-skills training through the county’s Recovery Court program to nonviolent offenders who have a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Gates Public Library of Rochester, New York, hosts public forums to educate the community about opioid addiction and overdose. To further highlight this important work, PLA is working with OCLC to produce eight case studies of communities in which the public library is playing a role in responding to the opioid problem.
Participants in the Nutrition Module of Recovery Court prepare a meal in the staff lounge of the Blount County (Tenn.) Public Library.
Opioids include prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetics such as fentanyl. One anti-opioid overdose drug, Narcan Nasal Spray (naloxone), is being used at some libraries to save lives. Michelle Jeske, Denver Public Library (DPL) city librarian and member of the PLA board of directors, says the library began training staff to use Narcan at the beginning of 2017. DPL administered Narcan 14 times that year and a handful of times in 2018. “Those are lives we saved,” she says. “These things can and do happen at libraries because libraries are very public places.” Emergent BioSolutions, a biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, announced in October that it is offering two free doses of the nasal spray version of the anti-overdose drug Narcan to the nearly 17,000 public library locations in the United States.
Equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice
Across the US, public library workers are joining racial justice leaders and library scholars who have long argued for “critical race discourse” in library education and practice. For example, Madison (Wis.) Public Library has applied racial equity assessment tools to multiple policies and programs and to the library’s strategic direction. This assessment has informed the library card registration process for school children, meeting room policies, library placement and staffing, and hiring processes. This example and others, which have been captured in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity’s report on public libraries, are helping PLA teach all public libraries what they can do to address equity and social justice.
Nika Cunanan from Waipahu (Hawaii) Public Library (left) and Samantha Martinez from Anythink Libraries (Adams County, Colo.) work together on a project as part of PLA’s Inclusive Internship Initiative.
While the populations being served by public libraries are steadily becoming more and more diverse, the library workforce remains predominantly white and female. In response to this, PLA has developed an Inclusive Internship Initiative that aims to introduce high school students from diverse backgrounds to a career in librarianship through a paid summer internship at their local public libraries. By the end of summer 2019, 150 students will have completed this landmark program.
There are more public libraries (16,568) than Starbucks cafés (14,606) in the US—a total of 16,568, including branches. Nearly 100% of public libraries provide Wi-Fi and have no-fee access to computers.
In 2016, there were 1.4 billion in-person visits to public libraries across the US, the equivalent of about 4 million visits each day. That’s roughly 2,664 per minute.
Public libraries strengthen local economies: 84% of libraries offer technology training to patrons in computer software use; 77% provide online health resources; 60% offer programs to help Americans identify health insurance resources and get better informed on health topics; 73% provide programs that assist individuals to apply for jobs, create résumés, and prepare for interviews;97% help people complete online government forms.
Public libraries create healthier communities:59% of libraries provide programs on finding health insurance; 58% provide programs to help people find and evaluate health information; 23% offer fitness classes.
Public libraries are the place for lifelong learning: 95% of libraries provide online homework assistance; 95% offer summer reading programs for children.
Public library access equals opportunity: 100% of public libraries offer access to the internet; 98% offer free Wi-Fi; 90% help patrons with basic internet skills; 97% help people complete online government forms; 90% offer access to ebooks.
Data for this list was retrieved from the 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey. For more information about sources and citations, contact the ALA Library and Research Center at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at the Libraries Transform website.