New report shows libraries critical in times of crisis, but funding lags and services reduced

Contacts: Macey Morales / Jennifer Petersen

ALA Media Relations

312-280-4393 / 5043 /


For Immediate Release

April 13, 2009

(CHICAGO) — The value of libraries in communities across the country continued to grow in 2008—and accelerated dramatically as the national economy sank and people looked for cost effective resources in a time of crisis, according to the American Library Association’s (ALA)  annual State of America’s Libraries report, released today as part of  National Library Week, April 12-18, 2009.

U.S. libraries experienced a dramatic increase in library card registration as the public continues to turn to their local library for free services. More than 68 percent of Americans have a library card. This is the greatest number of Americans with library cards since the American Library Association (ALA) started to measure library card usage in 1990, according to a 2008 Web poll conducted by Harris Interactive.Â

The report also says library usage soared as Americans visited their libraries nearly 1.4 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.

However, public funding did not keep pace with use, according to a survey conducted by the ALA. Forty-one percent of states report declining state funding for U.S. public libraries for fiscal year 2009. Twenty percent of these states anticipate an additional reduction in the current fiscal year.

While reductions have been seen from coast to coast, the southeastern section of the country has been the hardest hit, with declines as large as 30 percent in South Carolina and 23.4 percent in Florida in FY09 compared with FY08. Per capita state aid in South Carolina has fallen back to 2003 levels, at the same time inflation has averaged between 2.5 and 3.4 percent annually. Additionally:

The effects of the slumping economy on local libraries were often painful, and many community colleges began reducing library hours or staff just when enrollment was swollen by unemployed people seeking to acquire new skills

Even as funding began to falter, the report shows that libraries continued to serve as excellent community resource offering users a goldmine of information, resources and support for those affected by the recession.

Libraries continue to report that job-related activities are a priority use of their computers and Internet services. Nationwide, libraries are offering programs tailored to meet local community economic needs, providing residents with guidance (including sessions with career advisers), training and workshops in resume writing and interviewing, job-search resources, and connections with outside agencies that offer training and job placement.

However, despite increased demand for library computers, libraries typically have not seen a corresponding increase in budgets, and many are challenged to provide enough computers or fast-enough connection speeds to meet demand.”

ALA President Jim Rettig said,“As illustrated in the ALA’s State of America’s Libraries Report, in times of economic hardship, Americans turn to – and depend on – their libraries and librarians.”

Other key findings in the 2009 State of America’s Libraries report:

  • Children are among the heaviest users of public-library resources. Children’s materials accounted for 35 percent of all circulation transactions, and attendance at library-based children’s programs was 57.8 million.
  • Individual visits to school library media centers increased significantly at the schools that responded to both the 2007 and 2008 surveys: up 22.7 percent for the 50th percentile, up 12.5 percent for the 75th percentile, and up almost 25 percent for the 95th percentile. There were no major year-to-year differences in the responses with regard to the other variables.
  • Academic libraries maintain their leading role in partnering to scan and digitize print book collections, with the potential to provide unprecedented access to millions of volumes. Large-scale digitization initiatives include Google Book Search, Microsoft Live Search Books, Open Content Alliance, and the Million Book Project.
  • A survey of public, academic, school libraries and special libraries revealed that 40 percent of the 404 libraries that responded circulate games; PC games were the most frequently circulated type, offered by 25 percent, but the number of libraries circulating console and handheld games rose slightly from 2006 to 2007, while those circulating PC games and board/card games decreased slightly.
  • The number of mobile library service vehicles continues to increase from more than 930 in 2008, vs. 825 nationwide in 2005.
  • The library profession continued its active efforts in 2008 both to make its ranks more accessible to members of ethnic and racial minority groups and to strengthen its outreach efforts to underserved populations.

The ALA State of America’s Libraries Report is produced annually and reports on key  library  trends and data.

The full text of the 2008 State of America’s Libraries is available at