How many closings?

Q. I keep reading about recent closings of public libraries or proposed closings of branches in some larger cities, and I recall that others, such as in Salinas, CA, closed but re-opened.  How many libraries have, in fact, been closed?  I hope it isn't many, as I've also been reading about increased library usage, and I would hate to see cutting libraries viewed as a tool for dealing with strained budgets.

A. The most reliable count of the number of public library service outlets comes from the annual IMLS Public Library Survey, as reported on our Fact Sheet 1, but that report is lagged because of the collection, analysis, and publication processes, and doesn't reflect the various actions reported in the news.  So, we in the ALA Library consulted our colleagues in the ALA Office for Research and Statistics (ORS), who said:

As you can imagine from a data standpoint, the number of closed libraries is a swiftly moving target. Even the announcements of potential closures in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Reno and Boston sometimes change from week to week as many library advocates stand up for keeping their branches open – often ultimately leading to reduced hours rather than complete closures.

The most recent information we have from the Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study (PLFTAS) was gathered during the fall of 2009, and the news has certainly gotten worse since then. At that time, 13 state library agencies reported they were aware of library closures in their states due to budget issues. Twelve states reported it was fewer than five, with Indiana reporting between 5-10 closures of branches.

Lost hours is more common, and likely will continue to be more common. In the public library survey folks completed last year, we saw a significant increase in the number of libraries reporting decreased operating hours: nearly 15% of libraries nationwide, and 24% for urban libraries. At the same time of course, libraries have expanded resources for job seekers and seen increased use of their technology resources. We shared these findings in the “perfect storm” brief in January, 2010.

So, you’re right, the message should be that closing a library is an extreme and unusual measure…and flies in the face of libraries being one of the most valued public services in a community. The messages in the tough economy toolkit created between [the ALA Public Information Office] and [ALA Office for Library Advocacy ], with ORS may be helpful in talking about why libraries are more important than ever.

For additional information on how you can support local advocacy efforts see the material at Advocacy U ... and if you're going to be at the ALA Annual Conference, participate in Library Advocacy Day, June 29, 2010.