Why Use The Library? -- Economics

Piggy bankLibraries have always provided useful services to their communities and free access to a wide range of media. But it’s usually during tough economic times that we recognize the true value of those resources. As Americans today struggle to stretch every dollar, they’re returning to school, university and public libraries in droves.

The Cost of Fun

The books, audio books, CDs and DVDs purchased by just one individual can cost thousands of dollars every year. These days, however, Americans are spending less and less on entertainment. A 2009 Zogby poll shows that 70 percent of Americans are cutting back on luxuries like movies, including 76 percent of young adults.

Instead, Americans are looking for affordable entertainment options at their local libraries. The American Library Association’s 2008 State of America’s Libraries report found that library users checked out more than 2 billion items in 2008—10 percent more than they took home during the 2001 recession. And as e-books grow more popular and e-readers become more widespread, libraries are adding the new format to online catalogs.

The hunger for fun learning also drives the multi-billion-dollar video game industry. Many parents know that teen gaming comes with a high price tag, but libraries often loan the same games for free. Many libraries invite kids to play Web-based games on in-house computers, and some even organize their own gaming programs or events.

Surf and Save

While many people thought the Internet boom would make libraries obsolete, the opposite is true. The information age has made libraries more vital than ever. The cost for Internet connection is still higher than many families can afford, though it’s an essential tool for both job seekers and students. Many libraries remain the only place in communities offering free Internet access to the public.

According to the 2008 State of America’s Libraries report, one South Florida man saved more than $700 by canceling his Internet service and logging on at his library.

Paying It Back

Libraries do more than help Americans save money; they also spur economic growth. People without home computers or Internet access rely on library computers to find and apply for jobs. Beyond that, libraries offer a range of programs aimed at employment, career training and small-business development.

How can we measure that impact? Research shows that $1 invested in a library yields a return of more than $4 for the average community. Some cities see even higher numbers—in Fort Morgan, Colorado, that same dollar returns an incredible $8.80. Yet the annual cost to individual taxpayers nationwide adds up to just $31. That’s less than the price of a night out or a new hardcover book.

In good times or bad, libraries provide the kind of economic stimulus that benefits everyone. Take a look at how much your library can save you each year: