Reports last week suggested that the public libraries in Philadelphia may close as the result of a budget impasse between the state of Pennsylvania and the city. Although the threatened closure may involve some brinkmanship, the possibility fostered some healthy discussion about the value of libraries.
In its September 14 issue, Crain’s New York Business provided at least one measure of the value of libraries, particularly in economic downturns. Looking back to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the newspaper reported that, between September 2008 and August 2009, library books borrowed from the New York Public Library increased by 2.1 million (12.8%), to 18.5 million.
While we could also wear a “glass half empty” hat and say that they cost publishers 2.1 million paid sales, we’re ultimately part of an ecosystem that is built on the value of reading. Growth in library lending may not be the most direct path to profits, but it’s a social good that the public and publishers recognize and should encourage.