American libraries are struggling with budget cuts, according to the 2012 State of America’s Libraries Report released today by the American Library Association (ALA). Staffing cuts happened at every level in 2011, from the local public and school library to the Library of Congress, which lost nearly 10 percent of its workforce. School libraries were particularly hard hit by the elimination of funding for the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries Program.
Some 5 percent more states reported decreased state funding for public libraries in 2011-2012 than in 2010–2011. Some 23 states reported cuts in state funding for public libraries, marking the third year in a row that more than 40 percent of participating states have reported decreased public library funding. (However, only nine states anticipate decreased funding for 2012-2013.)
For the second year, 42 percent of states report that local funding for public libraries probably declined for a majority of libraries in the state. However, only 12 states reported that they were aware of public library closures in their states in the past year, down from 17 the previous year. Only New Jersey and Michigan reported closures of more than five libraries.
Budgets may be down, but usage is up: the report found that public libraries in many major U.S. cities continue to see circulation rise. Seattle tops the list with a 50 percent increase in the past six years.
The proportion of U.S. libraries that made ebooks available almost doubled over the past five years, climbing from 38.3 percent in 2007 to 67.2 percent in 2011, according to the American Library Association’s Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study. Of course, the continuing lack of availability of ebooks was also a major issue, as was the doubling and tripling of prices by Random House, which, along with Harper Collins and its 26 book cap, are the only the Big Six publishers to still make ebooks available to libraries at all (Penguin having dissolved its contract with OverDrive earlier this year.) “In a time of extreme financial constraint, a major price increase effectively curtails access for many libraries, and especially our communities that are hardest hit economically,” Molly Raphael, ALA president, said in a statement.
Librarians also took stands against censorship in various forms, from overly broad anti-piracy legislation to overly aggressive web filters and of course, banned books. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) received 326 reports regarding attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves in 2011. To view the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2011, visit Infodocket, now part of the Library Journal family.