Over the past three years, staff and material budgets for local libraries in the United States have been decimated by the government entities that fund them. Yet a study by the American Library Association and the Gates Foundation found that over the past year, "Americans are making use of their libraries at steady or increasing rates" (The State of America's Libraries: A Report from the American Library Association). Can public libraries keep up with the demand for services and resources without the money to fund them? I'm beginning to doubt it.
Internet stations in my local public library are installed with Microsoft Office 2003. More and more customers are coming to the library with flash drives and documents more advanced than the library computers are able to handle. There is no money for computer upgrades. At what point will the library's infrastructure become obsolete?
“Computer and Internet access at public libraries connect millions of Americans to economic, educational, and social opportunity each year, but libraries struggle to replace aging computer workstations and provide the high-speed Internet connections patrons need,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “As demand for these services rise, public and private investment to support public access technology at libraries is more critical than ever.” (From The State of America's Libraries.)
Where will this public and private investment come from? We hear that the economy is improving, but as gas prices and rents are on the rise, salaries are not. Neither are library budgets. Even print materials are becoming outdated. For example, the most recent edition of a book on blogging that I found in my library system was published in 2006. I discovered that many of the links referenced in the book are now obsolete. If public libraries aren't funded at a level that enables them to keep their resources current, will they ever be able to catch up? What do you think?