rusq: Vol. 51 Issue 3: p. 302
Sources: A Strong Future for Public Library Use and Employment
Margaret Mohundro

Margaret Mohundro, Executive Director, Sanibel (Fla.) Public Library

During these economically challenging times for public libraries, authors José-Marie Griffiths and Donald W. King provide arguments for continued public funding and support in A Strong Future for Public Library Use and Employment. Libraries have weathered recessions before and have shown consistently that when revenue sources decline, operational adjustments are made to deal with fewer resources. In addition, public libraries provide services that are particularly needed during recessions, so the use of many services increases. Griffiths and King use evidence from Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) studies, statewide return-on-investment data, and survey results to demonstrate the value of public libraries. The book synthesizes research from many sources and provides easy-to-understand statistics, charts, and graphs, all of which are valuable advocacy tools for explaining—to boards, funders, stakeholders, and the public—why libraries still matter.

Further, the book contains a comprehensive assessment of public librarians’ education and career paths to date and includes trends in public library employment, such as staff structure and educational level of staff. Early chapters highlight expanded service trends and increased library visits (both in-person and online) during economic recessions. The authors’ studies show that, interestingly enough, a rapid increase in online visits has not negatively affected the number of in-person visits and may actually increase them—important data to present to those who say libraries are no longer relevant!

The second half of the book details public library employment trends. During the past three recessions (1980s, 1990s, and 2000s), the number of MLS-level librarians increased, and staff structure remained relatively consistent, yet the type of work done by MLS librarians decreased in reference and research services. Although this information is certainly of interest, the real value to public library administrators, library schools, and the ALA is contained in chapter 8’s ten-year forecast of the number of MLS librarians in the workforce. Measures used to forecast include the number of MLS librarians who are expected to remain in the workforce, the number lost through attrition, and the number of current vacancies. These data come from a variety of sources, such as economic models, census information, surveys, and IMLS studies. The authors admit that forecasting is challenging, but results may be used to benchmark for future testing.

Public libraries face the same challenges during recessions that other organizations face: decreased funding, stretched staffing, and the need to do more with less. According to the authors, the current recession is unlike previous recessions in that federal, state, and local funders have accumulated substantial deficits that may require greater cuts and extend the length of the recession. So the question is: how will libraries fare? The answer is up to us.

This book offers useful research from multiple sources and provides valuable tools for advocacy and planning. Using data about trends and funding during previous recessions, the authors help libraries face the challenges of this extended recession. A Strong Future for Public Library Use and Employment belongs on the shelf of every public library administrator and should be shared with public library board members and staff.

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