Are Libraries Going Extinct?

To me, the question “Are libraries going extinct” is actually a very silly question.  All I have to do is walk into my public library and I can see that the computers are filled with students doing homework and adults searching for jobs.  Songs and laughter are coming from the story time room.  There is a line at the front desk and returned books are piling up on the counter, the workers being too busy at the moment to check them in.  Still, it’s worth looking at the numbers to settle this debate once and for all.

My local library publishes an annual report breaking down its sources of revenue, its expenses, its circulation numbers, and more.  I imagine that most, if not all, public libraries have such a report that they also make available to the public.  A quick glance at the 2016 report shows me that about 60% of my city’s residents actively hold a card (meaning they renewed it within the past year).  To me, that  number is not shabby, especially considering that some families only use one card for every member.  Over half the city has been to the library in the past  year!

Of course, my library might not be representative of the library usage of the U.S. as a whole.  But the Pew Research Center collects statistics on library usage and attitudes towards libraries every year.  In 2016, they found that 46% of adults had been to the library in the past year and that Millenials (53%) were more likely than any other generation to have been to the library.  Of those 16 and under, 48% had used the library or a bookmobile in the past year.  Though the numbers do not pass the halfway mark, they are hardly indicators that libraries are facing imminent closure.

Still, I won’t deny that I would like to see these numbers climb higher.  After all, libraries provide so much more than books these days and they are especially important in providing access to the Internet and other resources that many take for granted.  (In 2016, 35% of people with an income under $30,000 used the library computers or Internet–a resource many of us can’t imagine living without.)  In thinking about libraries, we have to remember that they are there to serve the community and promote equity.  If people are not using them, perhaps we have to find more effective ways of explaining and promoting the resources they provide.  I have met far too many children AND adults who come to the library believing that they have to pay to borrow materials or even possess a card to walk in the door!

Policy makers and those who control the tax dollars for libraries should also remember this:  Although only 46% of adults may have been to the library in 2016, a large number of library users are there because they cannot afford books, music, DVDs, Internet, or laptops on their own.  They are there because they cannot complete their schoolwork, apply to jobs, learn a language or a job-related skill, get their pay stubs, or connect through social media in any other way.  These people need the library, even if the policy makers don’t.  The Pew Research Center provides more pertinent data:

When using tech resources at the library, most people do research for school or work (61% of library tech users did in the previous 12 months), followed by checking email or sending texts (53%). A share also get health information (38%) and 26% have taken online classes or completed a certification.

Closing the library would put all these patrons at an even greater disadvantage. How would they earn good grades, apply to colleges, apply for health care, or get a job without the Internet?  The reality in today’s world is that they probably could not, at least not as easily or effectively.  And each struggle would make the next one harder.  Poor grades in high school from not being able to do research would mean fewer colleges to choose from.  No Internet to research colleges and financial aid would give someone even fewer opportunities.  Going to a college without the major one wants or to one not highly ranked in the person’s field would then potentially limit their job opportunities.  Ending library access would create a cycle from which it would be increasingly difficult to escape.  And yet some maintain that libraries are no longer needed.

I don’t think the numbers indicate that “no one” uses libraries anymore.  However, even if the numbers were lower, I would not advocate closing libraries but, rather, rethinking them and marketing them more effectively.  They are there to provide services to the community, to promote equity and access.  Their value is ultimately one that can’t be explained only in numbers.

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44 thoughts on “Are Libraries Going Extinct?

  1. When I Reach You says:

    Great post, Krysta. I can’t imagine more closing libraries. Over the past years, multiple libraries in my neighborhood have undergone renovation. While I’m glad that these libraries have reopened since, I also saw that many more people are using the resources available at libraries. Sometimes these are limited resources too. By that, I mean there’s a time limit or the resource available is fairly basic, or there’s limited working space. Some of the books there are fairly old too. I completely agreed that policymakers should think about the use and purpose of libraries.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I think it turns into a cycle. My library doesn’t seem to be buying many new books for the past few months. Presumably because the city doesn’t prioritize their funding and they look like they are about to lose a bunch of funding. But the city needs to invest in the library if they want more people to use it! More materials and more attractive spaces will draw more people! Right now I use a lot of ILL but not every patron knows about ILL or wants to use it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tim R. says:

    Your point is valid and I agree with it. However it is only one of many. You’ve pointed out how useful libraries can be towards those who ‘Have not’. What about those who ‘Have’? It would seem that if numbers are to rise, then one focus might also become how to entice those that don’t have ‘need’. Just my opinion of course, and I enjoyed reading your article. Thank you for addressing thus issue. It sadly gets overlooked.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      True, libraries are useful to everyone! It just seems that when funding is cut, the decision is made by people wealthy enough to buy their own books, movies, Internet, etc. But it is true they could benefit from attending programs and panels, borrowing materials they don’t want to buy, etc. I think it is worth noting that in my city the tax per person to fund the library is under twenty dollars. So anyone who borrows one hardcover has already saved money, whether they need to or not!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sammie says:

    This is a great post! I can’t (and don’t want to) imagine libraries ever being shut down for good. I live in a very poor rural community with a large population of senior citizens, and the library is pretty much the life blood of the town. Since we’re so far away from everything, it’s a hub for information about using computers (which a looot of people around here don’t know how to use), learning about all sorts of things via classes (including finances, VA benefits, etc), and just being able to get books that most people can’t afford (the median income here is very low, especially considering a lot of people are on fixed incomes). I think it’d do a lot of harm for a lot of communities, more than people realize.

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    • Krysta says:

      Sometimes I think we take the great library system in the U.S. for granted, but so often our public libraries only stay open because year after year people are fighting for them. I can’t imagine the impact shutting down a library would have on a community!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    I think you made some excellent points here- because it’s really not that libraries are going extinct in terms of use- that seems to be a policy makers excuse for reducing funding. And I do agree that even if the number of people using them went down, it’s so important to make sure that you encourage people to use them, instead of using that as an excuse to close them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Someone made an excellent point above that reduced funding could actually caused reduced usage. People are more likely to go to a library with up-to-date technology, ready access to the latest releases, and attractive spaces. Reducing funding seems like it could accidentally hasten the closing of a library!

      Liked by 2 people

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        Yeah that’s a very good point. Even anecdotally, I’m a member of a few libraries and the ones I go to more are the ones which update their books more often or have better facilities. So yes that’s true!

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          Yeah, I’ve been a member of more than one library. I don’t go to the smaller ones as much because it feels like I’ve read/watched half of what they have already…. They also tend to have shorter lending times because they can’t have their entire collection gone for weeks. I can do ILL, but that means I don’t need to go in the door and browse.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. karen blue says:

    It is scary to think about libraries not being there. Where I love now the library isn’t very big, or offer many services. Where I lived in Florida the libraries were much larger and offered so many programs.
    I know libraries in bigger cities offer so much to the communities. They offer meeting spaces, technology, and classes for free to those who might not have it otherwise.
    This is such an important topic. Thanks for sharing all this. I agree that the numbers don’t justify the budget cuts.

    Like

  6. saraletourneau says:

    I only use the library for borrowing and donating books, tbh. But as long as it’s still open, I’ll keep going for those reasons. And every time I go, the parking is full or close to it – granted that it doesn’t have a large parking lot, but I think that still says something positive. Plus, the library frequently has events for children (story time, free movies), adults (readings, health & lifestyle), and families (acoustic concerts). So the fact that they have a steady stream of offerings for patrons hopefully means they’re doing well enough. I’d actually like to go to some of the library’s events in the future, if they work with my schedule.

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    • Krysta says:

      My library offers fairly boring adult programs so I have never gone to one. I am just not into yoga, which seems to be what they do all the time, along with drum circles and such. (Obviously other people don’t think this is boring because the programs are well attended. 😆) So I mostly borrow materials, but I hope they expand their programming soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. By Hook Or By Book ~ Book Reviews, News, & Other Stuff says:

    This is a great post Krysta. I don’t believe that libraries will ever become extinct.🤞🏻They’re so much more than “just” a place to check out books and movies, etc. I’ve seen more adapting ie: offering more programming like author festivals, job training, arts and crafts (not just for the munchkins), poetry slams, karaoke nights, wine and cheese receptions, homework centers and so on. I had to leave my job as a children’s librarian 6 years ago due to my health, but I know that the days we had programming our circulation stats skyrocketed. A library today is also a community center and needs to be there for everyone.😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Excellent points! A library is truly a community space. They offer so many resources and people often call the library when they aren’t sure whom else to call. So they end up directing people to appropriate government offices, giving out tax forms, linking up the homeless with resources, etc.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    We are (as I have mentioned) very fortunate to have a solid library system in place here. But before moving west, I grew up in a town where it actually felt as if libraries would simply fade into the past. Multiple locations in surrounding areas were closing and my own local library at the time was forced to reduce operations to three days a week 😦 I would be curious to know what the numbers are here for active patrons. I cannot see libraries ever going “extinct” but I know there are certainly areas that are losing funding, so I believe the may be reduced in numbers ultimately if something doesn’t change. This is a great post!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      My library usually posts the numbers in a report each year. Maybe if you dig around the website, you’ll find a report for yours? It’s scary, though, because even though my library seems more active than most, funding cuts are discussed for it every year. It sometimes feel like their success is very precarious! I know hours have been cut in the past as a result. :/

      Like

        • Krysta says:

          It’s definitely hard to know sometimes. I would assume my library is thriving, except I can see from the annual reports that they are pretty close to breaking even each year. So when people threaten to take funding, that is concerning to me. I wouldn’t say my library is making enough money that they could take that hit without decreasing hours or materials. :/

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  9. existingonpaper says:

    I just recently received my own library card where I’ve lived in the past three years–I’d always been meaning to do it, but never got around to. One day, I just walked right in and was helped eagerly. I’m really glad it’s a place of solace for me and seeing as the library in my neighborhood was filled with people, I know libraries will be one of the last public places to be closing down anytime soon.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      That’s wonderful! Libraries are especially great now because I don’t even have to walk in the door to use them. I can get ebooks or stream videos at home!

      Like

  10. Wednesday's Child says:

    You’ve articulated my own thoughts about libraries perfectly. I’ve been a frequent patron of libraries since childhood. I now live in a city which has embraced its libraries, and hosts an impressive variety of events, so my usage has probably gone up in the last 12 months!

    Like

  11. dawnabron says:

    Great post.
    As a librarian, I agree that libraries have had to rethink and that’s why many libraries circulate wifi hot spots in addition to laptops and other special collections as they are called. I too experience the ideal that libraries are just for reading and shushing but many libraries like mine are turning into community centers where people gather to learn something new or to just socialize. Let’s hope the government doesn’t cut funding to libraries because it’s in their budget for 2019 to do so.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I’ve seen the new WiFi trend and I think it’s really cool! I’ve never used one, but they seem really useful. I know a lot of people without Internet use them, but also people who are going on vacation.

      Ugh, yes. It seems like library funding is always in jeopardy. I can’t imagine why it’s so difficult for some people to recognize how much good work they do.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Alex says:

    Great post! I totally agree about the value of libraries, both for those who need the services they provide and those who simply enjoy free books and fun activities. Growing up, going to the library frequently was a huge part of my life, and without it, I wouldn’t have been able to develop the strong love of reading that fuels me to this day. It’s such an integral part of my life that it kind of shocked me when I brought up libraries in my English class the other day and found that most of my classmates hardly take advantage of them. (A lot of them didn’t even know that you could request books.) This was pretty saddening. Libraries are an amazing resource, and they really have the power to change lives, whether it’s providing Internet access for those who don’t have it (like you mentioned) or simply fostering a love for reading in children. I wouldn’t say they’re going extinct, because they clearly have a lot of very important purposes, but I wish more people would take advantage of them.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I see a lot of people who say they don’t use their libraries because they don’t have the books they want. I remind them that they can borrow them from other libraries, make a purchase request, or use ILL. I can’t imagine living without my library. It has so many great resources and it’s all free! Why would you NOT take advantage of that?

      And, sometimes when I say it’s free, someone reminds me that tax dollars pay for it. But, okay, I pay under $20 in taxes each year so by the time I have borrowed one hardback or DVD, I have already saved money and then it’s all free. 😉 The other way to look at it, of course, is “If your tax dollars are paying for it, why not use it?”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alex says:

        Exactly! Especially for me, the free books are the biggest plus. I just don’t have the money to buy books regularly, so the library is a lifesaver. Books, DVDs, CDs – everything a library lends would be a decent amount of money otherwise, so you’re definitely saving cash in the long run! But, like you said, that’s only if you choose to take advantage of the library system. So, bottom line: libraries are awesome, and everyone should use them 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  13. fancylibrarian says:

    Glad to see so many positive Library comments here, and I agree with everyone else there’s a lot of great info in this post, thank you. I manage a public library and yes, we are still busy! We do try to offer lots of programs, recently we started trivia nights at the local bar, we have a ComicCon every year, and even an annual murder mystery “ who-donnit?” event, plus many more. Having libraries that remain vibrant and responsive to their community needs require support and local funding, so I hope more people start getting involved and letting their legislators know they care about their library. Thanks again!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Wow! Your library sounds quite active! That must take a lot of hard work and dedication from the staff! That’s so wonderful! And you’re right. I think it would help if more people contacted their legislators. I think sometimes it’s easy to look at a vibrant library and assume they’re rolling in funding, when oftentimes that funding is coming in from tons of different places and isn’t always guaranteed or secure.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Jonathan Scott Griffin says:

    Libraries are the backbones of civilization, as far as I’m concerned. Some people may just see a row of plain old book, but I see repositories of knowledge. The beautiful thing about libraries is because of them we can all be self-educated. You mentioned that there are students who can’t afford books, DVDs, and laptops to do their homework, and so forth. It goes even further than that. Many can’t afford college. Therefore libraries can help with self educating people. I didn’t stick with college, but I have always read both fiction and non-fiction. When someone sees me reading a history, philosophy, world religion, astronomy, or ecology book, they will almost always inquire as to what class I am taking. They are so surprised when I tell them that it’s for my own pleasure that I’m reading it and that I’m not in school. Shut down libraries and how can people educate themselves? Aside from having fiction books, and non-fiction books such as history, philosophy, and the sciences and so forth, many libraries also have foreign language programs people can check out. The library system where I currently live also has activities for teens, youth, and children, which encourage learning and gives them a fun environment. When I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, the downtown library would have public lectures of all sorts of interesting contemporary issues. Attending those free lectures was always so enjoyable.

    In short, a good way to further dumb down the intellect of society is to shut down libraries. Libraries provide a huge service in society. Cut them out of society and we will pay in the long run, if not the short.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, libraries are invaluable resources for the entire community. It is sad that some people don’t recognize all the good they do. I think some people ought to visit their local library before making assumptions about what they do or do not offer!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Madam Mim says:

    Couldn’t agree more! We have the same problem in the UK. They’re underfunded and under appreciated. But I love libraries and I hope they find a new way of marketing them so more people see their value to the community

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I hope so! My library still shamefully under-utilizes social media (and generally seems not to know how it works). I think it’s time they moved away from whatever they did to advertise in the past and caught up to everyone else!

      Liked by 1 person

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