By Jenny Shank
Public libraries are a major hub for Americans to gain access to e-books and other digital resources. But the nation’s recent economic troubles and the transition to digital books are creating major difficulties for these public institutions.
Last month, the American Library Association released its annual State of America’s Libraries Report, and many of its findings were grim. “Public libraries continue to be battered by a national economy whose recovery from the Great Recession is proving to be sluggish at best,” the report concluded. Twenty-three of the 49 chief officers of state libraries surveyed indicated that their library systems faced budget cuts over the past two years. “For three years in a row, more than 40 percent of participating states have reported decreased public library funding,” the report states.
While library budget cuts continue, demand for library services has soared. Lower income and unemployed patrons often turn to local libraries as their only source of Internet access.
“It will take a few years for the dust to settle.”
At the same time, libraries have sought to accommodate Americans’ ever-increasing demand for access to digital materials, a mission that has put them at odds with the publishing industry, which is struggling to retain its viability as many American readers shift toward reading books electronically and purchasing those titles from online retailers rather than traditional bookstores.
“In the end, it will be a matter of leadership and vision that will guide libraries through the current conditions,” said Jorge Martinez, director of Information Systems for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which supports libraries through grants.
SPARRING OVER E-BOOKS
One of the biggest challenges libraries face in this new digital age is the friction in their relationship with publishers, caused largely by the advent of e-books.
Publishers argue that borrowing a printed book from a library requires a patron to physically visit the building and then return a few weeks later to bring it back, which is more difficult than Continue reading