Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why Public Libraries Matter: And How They Can Do More - Forbes

Why Public Libraries Matter: And How They Can Do More - Forbes

I have often thought that nothing would do more extensive good at small expense than the establishment of a small circulating library in every county, to consist of a few well-chosen books, to be lent to the people of the country under regulations as would secure their safe return in due time.
Thomas Jefferson – letter to John Wyche, 1809.


From one standpoint, public libraries seem like a small thorn in the side of embattled publishers.   They account for a small percentage of book sales, but bleed off more sales by lending bestsellers promiscuously.  Publishers, anxious to discover the next Fifty Shades or Hunger Games have little time for their nattering and would prefer that the current fight over eBook pricing quietly disappeared.

But there is another side to public libraries in America: they are dynamic, versatile community centers.  They welcomed more than 1.59 billion visitors in 2009 and lent books 2.4 billion times – more than 8 times for each citizen.  More than half of young adults and seniors living in poverty in the United States used public libraries to access the Internet.  They used this access, among other purposes to “find work, apply to college, secure government benefits, and learn about critical medical treatments” For all this, public libraries cost just $42 per citizen each year to maintain.

The growth of electronic reading holds significant opportunities and threats for both public libraries and publishers.  This is no small affair: new research from the Pew Research Center shows that a third of Americans now own eBook readers or tablet devices, and Amazon sells more eBooks than print books.
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