Economic recession and library use

The link between economic decline and increased public library use has been discussed by US commentators for many years. Some sources date the first reference to this linkage as a statement in the 1880 Annual Report of the Chicago Public Library (Lynch, M. J. (2001)). More recently, the American Library Association (ALA) has conducted studies based on visitor statistics and circulation figures.

The theory seems to have some basis in fact, as has been borne out by the findings of the ALA studies. Factors such as job seekers visiting their libraries to borrow books that may help them to qualify for new jobs or to check newspapers for vacancies could certainly have an impact on library use. More significant, perhaps, would be the impact of those with less money to spend opting to borrow rather than buy their books.

It would be interesting to find out if Scottish libraries are beginning to experience increased use as a result of the current economic climate. SLIC will monitor CIPFA statistics in order to gauge the situation at a national level but it would be interesting to obtain anecdotal accounts of the situation from practitioners.

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5 Responses

  1. Although I no longer work in a public library, I have noticed that my local library has been much busier lately. I actually worked in this branch as a student so I am quite familiar with its use levels. It hadn’t occurred to me that the economic climate could be responsible for this but it sounds entirely plausible.

  2. A related factor that might increase library use is the rise in fuel costs. I read a letter in the Daily Record last week in which the option of going to the library to cut gas and electricity bills was raised. This will probably seem like an increasingly attractive option for those on low incomes, particularly the elderly or unemployed who may otherwise spend quite a lot of time at home.

  3. From my reading of history, there was a similar pattern in the 1930s when many working class and unemployed people took shelter in public libraries. There was a growth in reading, mirrored by the growth of projects like the Left Book Club.
    My worry, in the present climate, is that at the very moment when reading for pleasure is likely to become a refuge for people who are suffering from the effects of the economic downturn, philistine cutbacks by some councils may disenfranchise those very people by reducing opening hours, making librarians redundant and slashing the book budget.
    All these things have been happening around the United Kingdom. Doncaster Council has cut £622,000 and major figures reading development have recently had their pay cut significantly in regrading exercises.
    In the name of access to reading services, I would appeal to councils not to cut libraries as an instant, ‘soft’ way of reducing budgets.
    We don’t just want bread, we want roses too!

  4. As a former librarian I know that libraries have always provided refuge for the those needing somewhere to go to keep warm as well as those needing to improve their knowledge. It helps that librarians traditionally are sympathetic to those needing help, whether it is to find recreational reading, educational reading or simply to read the newspapers for employment opportunities. It is important that support for libraries increases as the economic situation worsens.

  5. […] been speculating for a few months now that the latest credit crunch might have a positive impact on public […]

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