Why Libraries are Important and Relevant in Missouri Today
Libraries and librarians are very good at telling the personal, anecdotal stories about why libraries are important. But the reality is that when it comes to legislative fiscal support, it’s all about the numbers. When legislators have to make budget cuts, they are looking for areas that have the least impact on voters who will remember on election day. Over the next two posts, I’m going to take a look at the numbers and argue that libraries are important to all Missourians (voting or not), and that they actually have a deep impact on the state in ways that are not easily quantifiable.
Library coverage in Missouri extends to 91.4% of the population and you can see here that the coverage extends to almost the whole state of Missouri. There are 3.3 million registered borrowers with 364 public outlets with 27 bookmobiles, which means that there are more libraries in Missouri than there are McDonald’s restaurants (342 in number).
Libraries in Missouri consist of large consolidated systems that are usually located in urban areas and small town single libraries, which you can see here, when visualized by annual budget runs the gamut between large and small.
So what do Missouri libraries offer? Well, books, of course! And DVDs, CDs, downloads, ebooks, children’s books, databases, magazines, eserials, and all manner of different materials for people to use and/or check out. Libraries offer librarians to answer questions, computers and internet, quiet study spaces, children and teen programming, research resources, job resources and a community, a safe place where people can interact.
So what should libraries offer? According to a Pew Research Study in 2013, Americans believed that the items below were very important or somewhat important to what libraries should offer. Strangely enough, this includes: Librarians to help people find information, books to borrow, access to computers and the internet, programs and classes for children and teens, quiet study spaces, research resources and job or career resources. (More Pew Research Studies- these are fascinating).
As you can see, Missouri libraries offer the goods and services that people think are important. Nailed it!
Well that’s great, you say, but we all know that today’s libraries aren’t very relevant. No one uses libraries anymore. I’m not a public librarian, I’m an academic librarian, but I talk about public libraries I hear these three phrases:
- I can just Google everything I need
- I can download books on Amazon
- I haven’t used a library since I was a kid
These are common perceptions that people have, but actually in Missouri, libraries are extremely relevant. And by the way, don’t you think that if YOU used the library as a child, OTHER CHILDREN are now as we speak using the library?
Missourians use libraries. In 2014 there were 3.4 million registered borrowers, which is more than the approximately 3 million voters in the 2012 election.
There were almost 3.8 million reported reference transactions. These are questions that people asked of staff members, and they are not the “Where’s the bathroom,” variety, but questions that require some degree of knowledge or expertise to answer. Library staff answer questions that help people with their information literacy, questions about where to go to find out how to create home-based businesses, or find medical information, questions about recommending books, or how to find websites or research relevant to a topic, and yes, how to unjam the printer.
There were almost 7 million uses of public internet computers, more than the total Missouri
population of 6 million, or even the population of the areas that are serviced by libraries which is 5.5 million. This is not just people going online to look at Facebook, although that is definitely a resource that libraries provide, but it’s also about students who come to the public library to do homework or research, people who pay taxes, bills, apply for jobs, create resumes, and do all the things that others with internet connections at home are able to do. Want to know more? Digital divide– it’s a real thing.
Libraries also offer children’s programs that are very well attended. As you can see, the entire population of children in Missouri who are under 17 years of age is around 1.4 million, and the attendance rate is well above that. Children and teen programs includes story hours, but also programs that promote early learning literacy that set children up for success as they continue along through school. This includes after school tutoring and teen engagement and leadership. Better educated and socially adjusted children make better future employees and employers in the state.
The next post will discuss the cost of libraries to the taxpayer, as well as the impact of the deep 2015 budget cuts.
Attribution notes: All of the data about Missouri Library usage came from this wonderful Missouri State Library statistics webpage. The data is provided in pdf AND excel format, so thanks Missouri State Library for being so awesome! Missouri population information was compiled from the US Census. You can find data from the US Census here or here (a more friendly search format). Data from the Pew Research Study came from here, and is essentially a re-creation of part of an existing chart for illustrative purposes. All graphs and charts are made from Tableau.