Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
The NYT and the Globe on "The Public Library Renaissance"

The New York Times' Freakonomics blog is weighing in on the "public library renaissance":

...If nobody seems to be out buying books, movies, and music, what are they doing with their leisure time instead?

Apparently: going to the library. The Boston Globe reports that public libraries around the country are posting double-digit percentage increases in circulation and new library-card applications.

Derrick Z. Jackson's original Boston Globe article, meanwhile, calls libraries "a recession sanctuary" and cites President-Elect Obama's tendency to use libraries as a "rhetorical anchor" in his speeches. The real chewy stuff, though, is in the statistics:

In Kern County, California, where Diane Duquette has been library director for 22 years, library checkouts were up 19 percent in the last quarter. She told the Bakersfield Californian, "We've never had that kind of increase before. Wow. In my time here, we've maybe had a 1 percent or 2 percent increase in good years."

The Boston Public Library is no different. New library cards are up 32.7 percent from July to November of 2008, compared with the same period in 2007. Visits are up 13 percent, from 1.4 million visits to 1.6 million. Checkouts of books, CDs, and DVDs are up 7.2 percent overall over the last fiscal year. More telling is that checkouts have soared between 27 percent and 37 percent at the Egleston Square, Fields Corner, Jamaica Plain, and Orient Heights branches.

New BPL president Amy Ryan said a baby story program at the Copley library has grown from fluctuating between 60 and 80 families to well over 100. Monthly visits to a free Internet homework tutoring service have doubled from 300 to 600. She said anecdotal reports indicate a spike in people using branch libraries to research new careers or returning to school. This is despite the BPL probably facing cuts, too.

What I like is how there's no hand-wringing in the article about the popularity of CDs and DVDs as well as books in libraries, which is how I think it should be. Back home in Wooster, there was a sizable amount of grumbling about how our new library seems to have more space dedicated to computers than books, but had I been in charge of that project I would have devoted even more space to multimedia use, including the creation of as many underground theaters as I could build for people to reserve for the private screening of DVDs, classic films and – gasp! – video games. I'd be sure to do a heavy cross-sell of other media that tie into the items (wouldn't it be nifty to do an Amazon-esque mailing list for library patrons that promoted other works by the creators of the stuff they'd checked out, or similar pieces from other media?) but libraries, like literature, shouldn't be mono-media concepts. If all good things run to the avenue, then the creation and maintenance of libraries as public all-media centers is only logical.

Were Benjamin Franklin creating the nation's first subscription library today, I'd bet my bottom dollar that he'd include every media type he could get his hands on – he didn't get to be Benjamin Franklin by being closed-minded. IMHO, libraries absolutely should have Twilight displays, and they should be accompanied by copies of Stoker's Dracula, books on vampire bats, vampire games, vampire movies like Nosferatu and even classic romances like the works of Jane Austen. At the center of the Venn diagram of what people should want and what they do want is where learning is to be found.

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