The Institute of Museum and Library Services, Library Statistics annually reports in Public Libraries in the United States: Fiscal Year 20xx the total public libraries. For the past four years those numbers have grown only slightly.
FY2005 – 9,198
FY2006 – 9,208
FY2007 – 9,214
FY2008 – 9,221
Twenty-three new libraries represent .0025% growth, or ¼ of 1% growth in the number of public libraries between FY2005 and FY2008. The best that could be stated about such growth is that public libraries were holding steady.
But we know through media and professional channels that many libraries have closed in the past two years.
In June 2010, Karen Muller addressed the question “How many closings?” for ALA, but did not actually answer the question. She wrote for ASK the ala librarian: Q&A from the ALA Headquarters Library, that; “The most reliable count of the number of public library service outlets comes from the annual IMLS Public Library Survey, …”, (9,221 libraries existed in FY2008 – made available in January 2011).
So, we in the ALA Library consulted our colleagues in the ALA Office for Research and Statistics (ORS), who said:
As you can imagine from a data standpoint, the number of closed libraries is a swiftly moving target. Even the announcements of potential closures in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Reno and Boston sometimes change from week to week as many library advocates stand up for keeping their branches open – often ultimately leading to reduced hours rather than complete closures.
The most recent information we have from the Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study (PLFTAS) was gathered during the fall of 2009, and the news has certainly gotten worse since then. At that time, 13 state library agencies reported they were aware of library closures in their states due to budget issues. Twelve states reported it was fewer than five, with Indiana reporting between 5-10 closures of branches.
Even fall of 2009 is very old data, but if we extrapolate this data to an average of two libraries per state (12 x 2 = 24), and a conservative six for Indiana, that equals at least 30 library closings by the fall of 2009. If we estimate another 30 closings in 2010, probably the worst year for libraries in recent memory, that gives us a total of 60 libraries closed after the FY2008 data were collected. Doing the math leaves us with 9,161 libraries – 99.6% as many libraries as existed five years ago.
Not to minimize in any way the loss for the staff and communities of those library closures, but that is not actually too bad on an industry-wide scale. I’m certain many businesses lost much more than that in outlets and chain stores in the past five years. There certainly are lots of empty businesses in my city, and no doubt in virtually everyone’s city.
What’s my point? My point is, why shouldn’t somebody report these numbers? Why act like it’s a terrible secret that can’t be spoken? I actually think these numbers of library closures are encouraging. Libraries could be doing much worse, all things considered.
Why not let the profession know that on the whole libraries are doing better than most businesses during this economic crisis? Everybody knows libraries have closed – some especially tragic closures too.
But, the good news is that (in spite of still largely offering 20th Century services to 21st Century clients) libraries as institutions are doing OK.
Don’t you think?