Slow economy fuels surge in library visits

Contact: Macey Morales

Manager, ALA-PIO Media Relations

(312) 280-4393


For Immediate Release

August 26, 2008

CHICAGO - With the nation facing tough economic times, Americans are visiting their local public libraries more often and checking out items with greater frequency. Libraries across the United States report that more people are turning to libraries in record numbers to take advantage of the free resources available there.

According to the ALA’s 2008 State of America’s Libraries Report, Americans visited their libraries nearly 1.3 billion times and checked out more than 2 billion items in the past year, an increase of more than 10 percent in both checked out items and library visits, compared to data from the last economic downturn in 2001.

ALA President Jim Rettig said, “During tough economic times, people turn to libraries for their incredible array of free resources, from computers to books, DVDs and CDs, for help with a job hunt or health information. The average annual cost to the taxpayer for access to this wide range of resources is about $31, the cost of one hardcover book. In good times or bad, libraries are a great value!”

At the Howard County Library in Columbia, Md., from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008, visits to its six branches exceeded 2.6 million - a 26 percent increase compared to past usage. Users borrowed more than 5.6 million items, an increase of 15 percent, and attendance at library classes, seminars, workshops and events set a new record of 140,000 attendees, a 12 percent increase.

Many library users have reported that high gas prices have kept their families off the road and in their homes. Families that cannot afford vacations are turning to their local library for free activities near home. For example, the Palmyra (Pa.) Public Library summer reading program increased by 163 percent over the past year; Guthrie Memorial Library in Hanover, Pa., experienced a 54 percent increase in program attendance; and the Adamstown (Pa.) Library summer reading program increased by 16 percent.

Library users are not only saving money on entertainment, but also finding savings related to Internet access. In South Florida a patron that paid $60 a month for Internet access canceled his service, so that he could take advantage of the free Internet service offered at the Hollywood (Fla.) Public Library, a savings of more than $700.

“As the economy slows, libraries continue to be changing and dynamic places that offer our nation’s communities free access to information that can better lives and support lifelong learning,” Rettig said.

Libraries are helping level the playing field for job seekers as well. Less than 44 percent of the top 100 U.S. retailers accept in-store paper applications. Libraries continue to report that many patrons are turning to library computers to prepare resumes and cover letters, find work, apply for jobs online and open e-mail accounts.

Many libraries also design and offer programs tailored to meet local community economic needs, providing residents with guidance (including sessions with career advisers), career training and workshops, job-search resources and connections with outside agencies that offer training and job placement. Millington (Tenn.) Public Library has seen patron attendance double for free adult programs in education, small business development and job networking.

Such services have given libraries a reputation for offering local government an excellent return on investment.. In Florida, a study showed that libraries create jobs, raise wages and increase gross regional product. Florida public libraries return $6.54 for every $1 invested from all sources. A study in South Carolina showed that every dollar expended on the state’s public libraries by state and local governments brought a return on investment of $4.48 — nearly 350 percent. Studies in Ohio, Seattle and Phoenix echo these findings.

There have been countless examples of how libraries encourage business development and help retain and create jobs. They serve as an important link to the business community, assisting with job creation and training programs, as well as contributing to business development initiatives.

To learn more about America’s libraries, please visit the ALA Web site at Additional library statistical data is available through ALA’s Office for Research and Statistics at

The American Library Association (ALA), the voice of America's libraries, is the oldest, largest and most influential library association in the world. Its approximately 67,000 members are primarily librarians but also trustees, publishers and other library supporters. The association represents all types of libraries; its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.