The Huge Threat Facing Libraries - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather

The Huge Threat Facing Libraries

At the Gilpin County Public Library in Colorado, which serves a community of less than 6,000 people, a sign on the roadside advertises "Free coffee, internet, notary, phone, smiles, restrooms and ideas" to all who enter.

Indeed, all libraries, with their familiar rows of bookshelves and busy, helpful librarians, have remained reliably stable, as ubiquitous in towns throughout the U.S as the local firehouse or the post office. But it is perhaps this familiarity that makes the American library as an institution more vulnerable than ever, and has many wondering: What is in store for its future?

These days, the library's very existence is a question mark, and they face some of the steepest budget cuts in history. According to a Harris/Reader's Digest Poll from late 2010, nearly 40 percent of American mayors plan to reduce hours, shed employees or make other cutbacks in the coming months, while many county libraries have already eliminated branches entirely.

The South Branch Library in Evanston, Illinois, had been open since 1917. One Evanston resident, Barbara Lewis, told Patch that she had originally moved to the neighborhood only so she could walk to her local library. It closed last February.

In Dearborn, Michigan, one of four library branches was forced to close in September; an administrative librarian there said he didn't really believe it would close until it was actually happening. In Fenton-High Ridge, Missouri, they've lost 33 percent of library staff to attrition over the past five years, and a "self-checkout" system was recently put into place to control costs.

"Our interest income has also deteriorated, and that used to give us a bit of a cushion," said Pam Klipsch, the director of Missouri's Jefferson County Library system, which includes the Fenton-High Ridge branches. "We've been very hard hit by this whole recession, and we've had to cut back and cut back and cut back, so when staff leave us now, they just don't get replaced." Click here to read more