Libraries: suddenly popular again — until they’re cut back in spending freezes

Somebody (I think it was Robert Darnton) made the point at the JISC ‘Libraries of the Future’ event in Oxford last week that the economic downturn is leading to a noticeable increase in the number of people using public libraries in the US. Here’s a blog post tot he same effect.

Lines around the building, bodies asleep on their bags, staff looking frazzled and dazed. No, this is not the local Greyhound station, it’s the most recent iteration of your neighborhood temple of wisdom, the public library.

With resources that could prove key in getting back to work, public libraries are seeing a significant uptick in patronage at the same time they are facing funding cuts. In the last year, the New York City system has experienced a 12 percent increase in patronage and a 17 percent increase in circulation that has spiked to 30 percent in areas like the Bronx.

Herb Scher, Director of Public Relations for New York Public Libraries, said the influx in patrons can be attributed to many downturn-related factors. Some new patrons are seeking resume help. Other are borrowing DVDs because renting them has become prohibitive. “We are looking to preserve as much service as we can,” Scher said in a telephone conversation.

Meanwhile, the city’s system is facing a $23.3 million cutback in June. If the measure passes, Scher says a 20 percent reduction in hours would follow.