I have a confession to make that will probably come as a shock. I’m not a small town girl, or even a small town woman. Small towns are those places I sometimes pass through on the way to somewhere else, unless I can just fly over them.
Thus, I’ve never given much thought to small town libraries, although I knew that with 16,000 public libraries in the U.S., lots of them must be in tiny places. After reading this article about library funding in small Pennsylvania towns, one question is, how do they survive?
Or at least, how do some of them survive?
The library in Mount Jewett, PA got $4,308 to spend from the state of Pennsylvania. What the heck do you do with so little money? $3800 has to be spent on books. I’m assuming it’s pretty easy to spend that little bit.
And because of the way Pennsylvania state funding works, the low amount also means it’s not getting much support from the community, at least through taxation.
That’s not too surprising, considering hardly anyone lives there. According to Wikipedia, the estimated population in 2012 was 912 people.
But the range is weird. The library in Emporium, PA, for example, got $67,000 in state funding, with an estimated population of only 2,013.
Not only is the state funding so variable, it seems that cuts to ILL and statewide databases haven’t been restored to pre-recession levels, and everybody is generally worse off.
I assume these are problems that most small town libraries have. As with many other services, more populous places have better choices. Still, it kind of shocks me how relatively little access to books there is for people whose public library has $3000 a year to spend.
And that’s in the places that actually have libraries. According to this article on the geographic distribution of public libraries (which you certainly won’t be able to view in most of those public libraries), “Approximately 196 million people (65% of the total US population) lived in a library GSA [geographic service area] and 106 million (35%) lived outside a library GSA.”
Thus, over a third of Americans apparently have no access to a public library.
Whether you have access to a public library really depends on which state you live in. “There is a much greater discrepancy by geographic area. The percentage of state populations that live in a library GSA range from a high of 97% in the District of Columbia to a low of 42% in North Carolina.”
The accompanying table is instructive. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest public library coverage is in the northeast, followed by the midwest and California, with most of the deep south coming in last, and most of those southern states well below the national mean.
And no state outside the northeast has more than 76% population coverage except Illinois, which sort of surprised me after all the great things I’ve heard over the years about Ohio libraries.
This is one aspect of life where non-white races aren’t disadvantaged, because other races apparently tend to cluster near cities, which have relatively good access to libraries. That is, except for Native Americans, who in this social indicator as with so many others fare poorly.
The biggest factor is whether you’re urban or rural. Not only do rural people have poorer libraries in general, as we see with Pennsylvania as an example, but they have a much greater chance of having no library service at all.
There’s obviously nothing new here. I was just really surprised after reading the second article how underserved by libraries so many Americans are, either by libraries with relatively few books or no libraries at all. And I’m sure this is correlated with other poor social indicators.
We could believe that it’s by choice. If people want access to libraries, they can move out of the sticks or the south and get them. I kind of assume that poor rural people don’t have a lot of life choices available, including moving somewhere new, but maybe.
Be that as it may, I have a suggestion for the Socially Responsible Round Table. The next time you want to push a meaningless resolution about something unrelated to the libraries, why not instead push a meaningless resolution in support of the third of Americans that have no library access at all.
That actually has something to do with libraries and it’s a worthy cause. It’s just not very sexy.