Tomorrow’s library might be a memory
Cobb County, part of the Atlanta Greater Metro, is going to close most of its libraries. (AJC link)
This is drawing gasps of outrage from a lot of people. I’ve been expecting it, and more, for some time.
I was a librarian for 13 years. About 3 years ago the library at which I worked had a budget crunch and I found myself out on the street. I found that any job for which I applied had at least 20, and recently as many as 100 fellow librarians applying. Note that this is a job field for which a master’s degree in a specific field is a requirement.
About a year ago I took a cold, hard look at the business. More important I looked at a lot of actual data - the raw stuff, not the massaging you’ll see. Here are some things I’ve found.
For the past 15 years, over 1/3 of public libraries in the nation have had declining visits and circulation per capita. For the past 15 years, “real” (adjusted for inflation) money per capita for close to half the libraries in the nation has decreased. For over a decade just under half of the nation’s libraries have seen a decline in staff per capita served, and slightly over half have see a decline when just professional librarians (aka those who hold at least a master’s degree in the field) are considered.
I should note that these are longevity numbers. In other words it wasn’t this year’s average compared to that year’s average. It’s each library considered individually, which means tossing out or otherwise accounting for those that have actually been closed or consolidated, and likewise accounting for newly established libraries. They muddy the picture a bit — not entirely, but a bit.
There are lots of suppositions for the reasons. The internet, the tendency to sacrifice libraries in times of tight budgets, ebooks, and more are possible reasons. I don’t know which reason - or reasons - truly apply. I just know that the public library may be going the way of the soda fountain or the roller skating rink, once found in every town but now just a sometime thing a few people still use.