Library Usage Up In Wake Of Recession
New Studies Highlight Use And Value Of Libraries

BIRMINGHAM, AL -- Two new national studies released recently show that Americans are using their libraries more than ever, and 91 percent of adults believe public libraries will play an important role in the future, despite all of the information available on the Internet.

The studies were commissioned by Chicago-based American Library Association (ALA) as part of its five-year Campaign for America's Libraries for release during National Library Week 2002, April 14-20. The ALA, with more than 64,000 members, is the voice of America's libraries and the millions of people who depend on them.

Librarians have long believed that when the economy goes down, public library use goes up. But no one has been able to substantiate this belief with data - until now. The ALA contracted with the University of Illinois Library Research Center (LRC) to study library use over the last five years at the 25 U.S. public libraries serving populations of 1 million or more. Using data from 18 of those large libraries, the study found that circulation has increased significantly since March 2001, when the National Bureau of Economic Research pegged the beginning of the latest recession. Using statistical analysis, the LRC found that circulation in March 2001 was 8.3 percent higher than would be expected from the trend observed since January 1997. Following the events of September 11, circulation in October 2001 exceeded the trend by 11.3 percent.

"This data confirms what librarians have seen from experience - that in times of economic difficulties people turn to their libraries and librarians," said ALA President John W. Berry. "Libraries are America's great information equalizers- the only place people of all ages and backgrounds can find and freely use such a diversity of resources, along with the expert guidance of librarians."

In fact, in a separate survey released at the same time, the ALA found that, overwhelmingly, adults are satisfied with their public libraries (84 percent compared to 7 percent who were not satisfied). While current public library spending per capita is $25, more than half of those polled believe $26 to $100 per capita should be spent to support libraries. With more than 16,000 public library outlets, librarians have an extensive reach in most communities nationwide. More than 80 new public library buildings opened last year, representing an estimated nationwide investment of $414 million, according to ALA Executive Director William R. Gordon.

KRC Research Consulting conducted the "@ your library?: Attitudes Toward Public Libraries" study, which polled about 1,000 adult Americans in a national random-sample telephone survey conducted March 8-11. The estimated margin of error is 3 percent. The survey also found:

  • Of adults visiting libraries, those aged 25-34 visit the most often - 24 times per year. On average library users head to the library an average of 13 times a year;
  • More than two-thirds of adults with children under 18 say they visit libraries with their children;
  • 62 percent of adult Americans say they have a library card. Adults with children are most likely to have a library card (73 percent);
  • The library is most often used for educational purposes (46 percent), followed by entertainment (41 percent).

In addition to asking Americans about their library habits, the survey also sought to gauge public perceptions of libraries. The ALA found that:

  • 91 percent believe libraries are changing and dynamic places with a variety of activities for the whole family;
  • 90 percent believe libraries are places of opportunity for education, self-help and offer free access to all;
  • 88 percent agreed libraries are unique because you have access to nearly everything on the Web or in print, as well as personal service and assistance in finding it
  •  83 percent believe free people need free libraries; and libraries and librarians play an essential role in our democracy and are needed now more than ever; and
  • 81 percent agreed that librarians are techno-savvy and on the forefront of the Information Age.

“This study further validates a previous ‘Cost Benefit Analysis’ report in which the Birmingham Public Library was a participant. That study, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and released in March 2000, demonstrated the great value that the public places on the materials and services offered by the Birmingham Public Library,” states Ms. Barbara Sirmans, Director of the Birmingham Public Library.
Ms. Sirmans adds, “In reviewing the statistics of the past two years, I was not surprised to see an increase not only in circulation, but also in library visits. This coincides with the study done by the University of Illinois Library Research Center. It is encouraging to know that in times such as these, the library is the one place that people can count on for excellent information service.”

For more information on the surveys and National Library Week, go to

The American Library Association provides leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all. Last year, First Lady Laura Bush launched @ your library?, The Campaign for America's Libraries, a five-year public education campaign sponsored by the ALA to speak loudly and clearly about the value of libraries and librarians in the 21st century. For more information about ALA, please visit or call 1.800.545.2433.

The Birmingham Public Library and its 20 branch locations provide the public with the most current collections, as well as providing the most comprehensive research tools in the state. The Birmingham Public Library strives to inform visitors by hosting special programs year round, such as Brown Bag Lunch series and Alabama Bound, as well as children’s programs from toddlers to teenagers. These programs allow the public to meet and greet guest lecturers, musicians, authors and publishers. For more information regarding the Birmingham Public Library and a list of exciting, upcoming events, please visit or call 205.226.3600.