Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Poll: Libraries Play Vital Role in Community

A recent Harris Poll echoed the rally cry of many library supporters, praising the resources libraries provide to affirming their importance in communities. Nearly 80 percent of respondents agreed that libraries deserved more funding.

The poll was included in a 70-paged report called “The State of America’s Libraries” released in April. When asked, 96 percent (representing nearly 224 million people) said that by providing free access to materials and resources, libraries play a vital role in giving everyone a chance to succeed, and 94 percent said libraries improve the quality of life. More than 80 percent agreed the library is an important tool for promoting, fostering, and advocating education. And approximately 80 percent of those surveyed agreed that libraries need and deserve more funding.

Additionally, the poll revealed that Americans value the “democratic nature” of libraries as places that “level the playing field for all Americans in the provision of materials free of charge.”

Lady Bird Johnson said, “Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.” And the majority of those asked agree.

Participants also stated that the library’s resources and programs which promote education and learning were among its most valued services, especially during these hard economic times. Nearly 93 percent believe that it is crucial for library services to remain free, and 31 percent of adults rank the library as one of their top tax-supported services.

Nevertheless, despite the need and support of patrons for continued free resources, services, and programs, libraries are targeted and are usually the first on the budget chopping blocks.

“As the economy has worsened . . . people are coming to libraries to look for jobs, they’re coming to libraries to access government services and government assistance, and they’re coming to libraries because libraries are a great deal for people that are trying to stretch a dollar,” ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels said in AL Focus in May. “So we have a situation nationally where we’re seeing library usage increasing 10 percent, 20 percent, in some instances almost 30 percent, while at the same time, library budgets are threatened and library budgets in some instances are being reduced.”

Scott Turow, in his Huffington Post piece, “Let-Them-Eat-Cake-Attitude Threatens to Destroy a Network of Public Assets," wrote, “Millions of Americans simply cannot afford to replace what libraries have traditionally offered for free -- access to books, computers and research assistance. Ironically, the importance of these services is even greater in a time of economic uncertainty."

Budget cuts always demand hard choices as local and state governments face hard economic times. But while budgets lessen, the need and demand for free services grow. Libraries are at the front lines of meeting those needs. People come become they want to expand their knowledge and increase their resources, all the while trying to stretch their dollars in a shrinking economy. A library stands as a testimonial to many communities. Your library needs your continued support.

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