National Press Club

Recession Threatens Public Library Resources, ALA President Warns

May 15, 2009 | By Paula Cruickshank

Public libraries are “the first responders to an economic recession,” American Library Association President Jim Retti said, at a Newsmaker May 11. However, he said, as public demands increase for library services in economic hard times, so do budget cutbacks, resulting in fewer library hours or closings when the facilities are needed the most.

Rettig said that more than 115 million people visit libraries each month for services ranging from book lending to using computers. Free internet access is particularly crucial now for job seekers and the unemployed who can use library computers to do on-line job searches or apply for jobs and unemployment benefits, Rettig said. Computer access also makes it possible for some students to continue their education through on-line courses and practice exams. Rettig said the current recession is different because of the internet and how it is integrated into every part of life.

A recent ALA study found that 62.2 percent of public libraries consider job-related assistance to be a critical service, up from 44 percent a year ago. Unfortunately, Rettig said, the fiscal year 2010 federal budget falls far short of the funding needed for libraries to continue its vital services and to expand broadband networks.