Cutting Libraries in a Recession...

(Image: CuttingLibraries, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from daniel_solis's photostream)

(via A Whole Lotta Nothing)


  1. I don’t know, Cory. This comparative statement doesn’t really balance out for me.

    Library cuts are bad at any time. Why would library cuts during a recession be worse? Plus, comparing libraries to hospitals just doesn’t cut it (excuse the pun)

    A better short aphorism would have been something like:

    “Cutting libraries in a recession is like closing supermarkets during a famine”

    1. I think library cuts are worse in a recession because library use skyrockets during times of financial stress. People lose their jobs and use the free resources of the library to their advantage.

      Also, free books are more popular when the budget is tight. Not to mention music and DVD’s.

    2. Because libraries experience higher patron volume during a recession. When people have to cut costs, the library is a source of free information, entertainment, and internet access.

    3. If people ate good food, exercised and stopped self-destructive behavior, we would need many fewer hospitals and we could cut them…and it would be wonderful!

  2. Beautiful and very truthful. In tough economic times, California has historically cut funding to libraries and even shut some down while maintaining or increasing funds to road maintenance and new highway signs. What good are highway signs if the population can’t read them?

    1. jeligula, what’s your source for the statement that “California has historically cut funding to libraries…” – from what I understand the California state government does not control local city libraries or completely fund these libraries.

      Our local city library hours were recently cut back. But it had nothing to do with state government. Also, if you’re going to compare libraries to highways, I’d much rather drive on a safe road than be able to check out a book during business hours

  3. The thing is, libraries – and printed books in general – will be rapidly viewed as anachronisms of the 20th century. The physical storage requirements of libraries and their remote physical location make them onerous to search and use. For all intent of the library archetype, libraries need to undergo a complete rethinking, to remain relevant into the 21st century, and might not even hold a physical address in the near-future of our burgeoning digital age.

    1. Sorry, what? 20th century? Ever hear of Alexandria and Baghdad? Putting even that aside, remember that we started with scrolls, moved to manuscript, and eventually printing. At each stage, libraries changed to accommodate these technological shifts. Why does the digital shift get accorded more respect? Because it’s so completely and fundamentally different?

      It isn’t. It merely multiplies the effects of previous innovations, and adds one:

      *More compact storage, as was the case in the transition from scrolls to manuscript.

      *Greater availability and range of books, as was the case when printing presses became more widespread.

      *Cheaper books that require less raw material, as was the case when printing techniques were automated and industrialized.

      The digital age merely offers an extension of all of these benefits, and adds one more: The ability (restricted currently by legislation) to allow multiple people to “check out” the same book at the same time- potentially without ever having to set foot in a building with so specific a designation as “library”.

      Meanwhile, however, I hasten to remind everyone that broadband is not considered a universal right. It’s not as plentiful as clean water (in the United States) and lack of access to technology is going to impose severe limitations on any sort of grand technical library advancement project.

      We’re woefully stuck in the analogue present thanks to the new era of digital rights management; increasingly narrow, costly, conditional, and restricted access to the Internet; and the heightened chilling effects of government interventions, privacy violations, and litigious ne’er-do-wells.

      (Irrelevant, but I still prefer the feel of paper books- and the knowledge that they are mine and available to me where there is a light source- electrical or otherwise.)

      1. Duh. Didn’t you read the ENTIRETY of my post? I said ” libraries need to undergo a complete rethinking.” I didn’t say they should be eliminated.

        Reading and comprehension has LOOOOONG been missing in our society.

    2. “libraries – and printed books in general – will be rapidly viewed as anachronisms of the 20th century.”

      printed books, maybe, eventually may be anachronistic, but libraries [as well-stated in comment #15 by The Chemist] can and are adapting to the shift in publishing media. There are a lot of challenges and if you took a moment to go to a library and look around maybe you’d notice that all of these things are being done to some extent at most libraries. As to their “their remote physical location” I have no idea what you mean, it’s not the library’s fault you don’t live closer to it. I was in the Boston Public Library earlier today, whose main branch (there are dozens of smaller neighborhood ones likely to be close to most people.) is at the center of a major city of millions of people. There are libraries all over the place and there will continue to be.

    3. Yes, but who will buy all the unemployed and working poor iPads and NetBooks, or provide them with free, unlimited internet access?

    4. I have access to two libraries at the moment with awesome online resources collections. Through them I can get past paywalls, download audio books and music, find links to community and national information, and just generally do almost anything I could do at the physical library with the exception of reading ink-on-paper books.

      I don’t think the printed book is going anywhere anytime soon, and neither are libraries. We adapt, they adapt.

  4. Libraries and public recreation (pools, parks, etc.) are typically the first things to get closed in any budget crisis. It’s a grandstanding ploy and a sort of threat — “See what happens when we have to make cuts?” Of course, patronage jobs and the bureaucratic apparatus rest safely.

  5. Totally agree, we need to get to work on public employee pensions before we even start to think about cutting library hours.

    1. So I see that “cut pensions” view a lot. It’s a common theme in the newspaper comments. It seems to be directed at people who have already retired.

      I don’t understand. We signed a contract with them that we would pay a certain amount for their retirement. They worked for at least 30 years in most cases based upon that promise. Former public sector employees could have worked in the private sector, often making more money, which they would have to put money in a retirement account. Instead, they worked for the public sector because it was safe, or because they felt they could make a difference, or because it was a job. Regardless, they did the work.

      The point is, how do you justify taking someone’s pension? They already gave up those years of their life. You can’t just take the money back? It’s not like they can now, as older workers, just go out and get a new job with the same kind of earning power.

      I wouldn’t want to be a government employee. Very few people I know are, or want to be. But the ones I know do it in large part because of that pension. They spend 30 years working for it. I don’t know where people think it’s justifiable or legal to just void our contract and take it back.

      Campaigning to reduce pensions on current and future employees is fine by me. But if you want to complain about money people pull in who are now retired, tough petunias. You should have said something 20-30 years ago, not after they did the work. Cripes.

  6. Wholeheartedly agree. In my town, Jersey City, NJ, two libraries have already closed in the past year or so… It’s depressing to see these lovely community centers go under.

  7. I agree (even if it might be a slight exaggeration) as libraries are centres of the community in ways few other things. Generally they are cut but they provide free and cheap access to information and the internet and function as the heart of many communities. yet these, youth and community centres etc being cut and shut down as the first measures in a recession will only serve to exacerbate social problems particularly in poor areas.

  8. During a recession, libraries do not only provide free pleasure reading material to people who can not afford to buy books. They importantly also provide job hunting resources, from workshops to public computers and Internet access. They also provide assistance with locating do-it-yourself information that people need greater access to when in tough economic times, such as gardening books, cookbooks, healthy living information, literacy and citizenship classes.

  9. Notice that the same pols who call for cuts to libraries, health care, nutrition programs, etc. never recommend cutting politicians’ salaries, perks, per diems, etc.

  10. This reminds me of a sign in my childhood public library: “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”

  11. They’ve already threatened such action locally; either libraries, streetlights or the police. You know, of course, they are leaning towards the libraries. As The Chemist mentioned, currently here in the States broadband is not a universal right, and many (if not most) libraries provide access (though, locally, only if you have a card; while WiFi is free, access to the libraries computers is only for card holders. Others must pay). Even before the recent turn down, they were cutting hours and staff in this very conservative area. Ironically, before I returned to the area, they built a number of libraries, but did not have enough funds to adequately fill the shelves.

  12. Disagree. Libraries are overrated. 97% of people don’t even have a library card. And they’re free. Let’s say you’re laid off, and looking to get into the computer field. Where would you go, to Borders or Barnes and Noble and read the latest and greatest, or go to the library and check out a book called “Essentials of Fortran (copyright 1982)”. And you don’t have to buy the book at Borders. Just sit there, drink your coffee and read the book. No one will bother you.

    1. “97% of people don’t even have a library card.”

      Actually, almost 70% of Americans do own and use a library card, which is pretty good market penetration by any count. But 97% is approximately the percentage of bullshit in your comment, so maybe that’s what you were thinking?

      Now assuming you mean the 1981 edition of Essentials of FORTRAN Programming (sorry, there isn’t a 1982 edition), you are again mistaken: you would have a very hard time finding it at any public library other than New York and Chicago. But if you aren’t lucky enough to live there or here, you still might be able to ILL a copy through your local system, if it hasn’t already been thoroughly gutted. (It’s a title more likely to be held by research institutions.)

  13. If by library, you mean a place with a bunch of books that people take home and borrow, I’ll happily see them close and die with the antiquated books they house.

    If by library you mean a place that offers everyone access to the wealth of knowledge of the world, then I’d be very sad to see them go.

  14. Beyond what has already been said about library services helping to get people back on their feet, there are other important aspects about a public place like a library in a recession. There are very few places where people with no place else to go can access without being accused of loitering.

  15. I work at a public library and this past year our numbers have shot up. Our storytimes for kids have been jam-packed, our internet and job search classes have a waiting list, the number of items being checked out is at an all time high and our online resource usage is incredible.

    The comments I get from the public time and time again are that their lives would be more difficult and less vibrant without the library. Parents have broken down into tears talking about job loss and how difficult it is to give their kids what they need. Without storytimes and programs as well as all the books, music and movies you can carry their families would not be doing so well. For students and seniors it is a place to gather, learn and connect to new ideas.

    Our province (BC) cut our funding (as well as education as a whole) last year and we have managed to hobble along providing excellent service. Where do the cuts stop though? Will we soon be forced to tell the people who depend on our services in so many ways that they and their family are not as important as tax breaks for the wealthy and other ludicrous money-wasters?

    Libraries have not ceased being relevant to our communities. As the Chemist so ably stated above, Libraries are moving and changing with the times. It is our governments and their priorities that seem to be woefully outdated.

  16. Eleanor Crumblehume?


    Sounds a wee bit fake.

    But then again, I sign into the library as ‘Seymour Butz’.

  17. So I’m wondering “Hey, a sudden +4000 spike in views. That’s odd, I wonder where it’s coming from.”


    “Ah, Cory Doctorow linked to it on Boing Boing… … …”

    *brain explodes*

  18. My wife works in our town public library and I can confirm that library use has increased dramatically. People that don’t have regular access to computers come in to search for jobs, write resumes, and send out resumes. Book circulation has increased as has DVD circulation since people are cutting back on those purchases or pay rentals (at least in my library, DVD rental is free to township members). The library has also done regular programs on searching for jobs and resume writing, home budgeting, looking for financial aid for colleges, etc.

    In New Jersey, Christie has put forth cutting funding to the state library which results in the loss of a lot of services that public library get. In addition, the state is proposing a change in the formula that municipalities are required to follow for funding their local libraries. If this passes then not only do the public libraries lose all the services that they had through the state library but they may also lose funding from the town, which is a double whammy.

    This sort of thing makes me think that it will just exacerbate the separation of the economic classes as loss of access to resources makes it harder for people to compete in a job market.

  19. @rrenaud. Okay, you don’t go to the library. You don’t, it seems, like libraries or low-tech paper books. That’s okay. Not everyone does.

    But why would you be happy to see them go?

    Many people, seniors in particular, do use the library. People with young chlldren often use libraries. All kinds of people use libraries for all kinds of reasons. And you’d be hard pressed to find a book lover who didn’t have a soft spot for a library.

    Whence cometh the hate?

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