Public Libraries Feel Strain of Budget Cuts

McClatchy DC discusses how cuts have affected libraries in various parts of the country.

From the article: "After spurring a surge in public library use nationwide, the tough economy is forcing many branches to cut staff, hours and programming right when many cash-strapped people need them most.

As in previous downturns, Americans turned to their libraries during the Great Recession for free children's programming or to borrow books, movies and music. In 2008, when the economy was in freefall, a record 68 percent of Americans had a library card, and library visits and borrowing spiked as well.

However, a whopping 72 percent of public libraries reported budget cuts this year; 43 percent cut staff as well, according to a recent survey by the Library Journal.

While public libraries rely overwhelmingly on local tax dollars, 19 states cut public library funding this year, and 17 reported library closures, a new American Library Association survey found.

Big-city libraries have been hit hardest. Among those with more than a million annual visitors, roughly 9 in 10 cut budgets and staff. System-wide cuts in their operating hours, on average, amounted to two branch closings, the journal survey found.

Experts say the funding crunch could cause libraries to lose much of the progress they've made in becoming relevant in the digital age. As years of cuts mount, many fear battered library computers won't be replaced, subscriptions won't be renewed, software upgrades will be delayed and staffing shortages will be institutionalized."

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