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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Library and the Economy

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 29, 2008

Librarians who have worked in the profession for a long time will tell you that library use is related to the economy.


My 36 years in libraries would confirm that statement to be correct.


As people's expendable income declines, they purchase fewer books and magazines and use the library for more of their reading materials.


In today's online society, the access to computers can be added to that economic observation.


More people use the library's public computers, as they cannot afford their own computer, and the software upgrades, and the Internet connection.


The reverse is true of a library budget during an economic slowdown.


Income declines as revenue sources declines during an economic slowdown.


Library budgets in Ohio have not grown for several years as the income has been impacted by cuts, freezes, and changes in state revenue.


So, today we have a situation of no-growth in library income, combined with increasing demands on the library by the public.


More of the library collection is checked out in use, leaving less on the shelves to be selected by users.


It requires the library to work cooperatively to meet the public's needs.


We are part of a 73-library system that allows us to share books and materials to everyone's benefit.


Computer databases are purchased cooperatively to reduce costs.


Computer connections are acquired through State Contracts to reduce costs.


Selection of new materials is done with the assistance of the computer system, which produces reports of what is requested.


Some materials are leased to meet the immediate demand, but can be returned when demand has been met.


Many times in my career, I have been asked why the library doesn't call the publisher and "get more copies" of requested books.


Each time, I realize that the person thinks that libraries receive books free for the asking.


While libraries do receive discounts for the purchase of library materials, we do have to "buy" what is added to our collections.


And yes, we do utilize the donations of books made to the library, and the occasional free items sent from a publisher; but neither would keep a library collection stocked.


To address my earlier comment about libraries and the economy, library usage is growing again due to the variety of uses of the library beyond books.


Often, we don't have enough public computers to satisfy the needs of the public.


And, the public library is serving as what I call, "the last public service desk."


All the federal, state, and local agency offices that have disappeared over the past several years are now accessible at the library via the Internet.


The library and its staff has become the place to contact for information.


And so, 106 years after the library's founding, we remain the place that serves the public with its information needs.