Librarians live and die by statistics. Mostly because we have to justify our existence to every politician looking to trim the budget. Also, and this can't be understated enough, librarians are just nosy, curious people by nature. Anything past simple arithmetic makes my head hurt, but I love looking at library usage statistics.
Geek that I am.
Yesterday my employer sent out our monthly statistics from a couple months back (what can I say, we're behind) and my coworker exclaimed that usage was "way up."
Then I took a closer look. Usage is up - in certain areas.
Before my defection to a sterile administration building, I worked at one of our branches located in a decidedly working-class area. People on fixed incomes. Immigrants fairly new to this country. The types of people who traditionally don't have a lot of disposable income. When they do have disposable income? Yeah, they're paying their bills, stocking their pantry, or buying their kids that much needed new pair of shoes. Books? Um, no.
Our branches located in these types of areas? Library usage did not go up. It either went down very slightly, or stayed level. No wild swings one way or another. Why? Because these communities traditionally use public libraries anyway - whether the economy is in the crapper or not. For them it's already a part of their lives.
Side note: Librarians, if you ever need an ego boost, work a public library in an area with a large immigrant population. Americans, God bless us, take public libraries for granted. We just do. But when you explain the institution to someone new to this country? Holy cow. It's like you're giving them the keys to the city. By far the #1 thing I miss about The Old Job.
Now our branches located in more affluent areas? The areas where people have traditionally had disposable income, or a big enough credit line to make their neighbors think they have disposable income? Library usage is up. Way up. In many instances we had branches circulate up to 3000-4000 more items in one month. 30 days people. Why?
Well, as much as people love their books - if it comes down to buying that shiny new hard cover or putting gas in your SUV so you can go to work? Yeah, gas is winning out. Plus, the library is a real bargain. Even if you jack up a 50 cent late fee, that's still way cheaper than what you would have paid for the book at the Big Box Discount Store. Oh sure, you have to sit your happy butt on a waiting list for that hot, new bestseller. But waiting becomes amazingly more palpable to people when they open up their wallets only to discover less money there.
I'm curious to see what the immediate future will bring. Specifically the November and December numbers. My experience has been that around the holidays, library usage takes a swift nose dive - but this year? I wonder. Especially since over 500,000 jobs were lost just in the month of November. How many of those people will find themselves going to public libraries to fill out online job applications and check out books on how to write amazing cover letters and resumes?
It's a mixed blessing for librarians though. As happy as we are to have people coming in and taking advantage of the services we offer? The crappy economy isn't exactly leaving us unscathed. Budgets are tanking. Hours are getting reduced, and in some cases across the country, branches are getting shut down. Thankfully it hasn't come to that for my employer, but that doesn't mean we're all dancing on top of our desks either.
So gird your loins fellow librarians, and prepare for the long bumpy road ahead.