Fewer books, CDs and DVDs were sold in 2008 than in the year before. The number of movie, theater and concert tickets sold shrank as well, suggesting that people are spending less money in their consumption of culture. With the recession, this only makes sense. As people suffer from layoffs, foreclosures and poorly performing investments, there is even less left over at the end of the month to spend on leisure.
And it appears that the culture gap left by these declining sales is being filled by (wait for it) libraries, of all things. Public libraries around the country are reporting double-digit increases in checkouts and library-card applications:
Checkouts of books, CD’s, and DVD’s are up 15 percent at the main library in Modesto, Calif. In Boulder, Colo., circulation of job-hunting materials is up 14 percent. Usage of the Newark Public Library in New Jersey is up 17 percent. Library-card requests have increased 27 percent in the last half of 2008 in San Francisco. The Boise Public Library reported a 61 percent increase in new library cards in 2008. In Brantley County, Ga., library computer usage was up 26 percent in the last quarter.
Though it can be easy to lament the rise in video games and 24/7 mindless cable, the library seems to be quietly reclaiming its portion of the American leisure market. This comes at the same time as many libraries are facing serious state budget cuts, also due to the economy. Library systems nationwide are facing cuts and closures, including in Philadelphia where 11 of 54 branches may be closed, according to Mayor Michael Nutter.
There is no word yet on whether the library increase is translating into an increase in reading. The increase in library foot traffic may mean only that people are going to use the Internet at the library for less than educational ends. CD and DVD checkouts, though they prove the importance of the library as a cultural hub, do not necessarily mean that people are heading to the library in droves to curl up with a good book.