Posted on July 23, 2013 in Archive

Why are libraries making a comeback

23Jul

Recent statistics reveal that the recession plaguing most of Europe has had an interesting impact on community libraries.

Hard hit by economic downturn, Spain has seen a rise in people borrowing books from libraries.

10 years ago, surveys indicated that Spain, Greece and Portugal had the lowest number of regular readers of EU countries.

In 2003, 47% of Spaniards interviewed said they read at least one book a year. This year, that figure has risen to 60%.

Unfortunately, the recession has also resulted in drastic cuts to government funding for public library budgets.

This article in The Independent talks about a library near Granada – Las Palomas – that was shut down by the government in 2011.

In December last year, a group of library supporters united and reopened the library and have managed to continue operations, even though all of the books were taken, the electricity supply to the building was shut off, and all of the staff members were dismissed.

With the help of candles, a cable running out a window and into a neighbour’s power box, the goodwill of volunteers, and donations of 8,000 books from local families, the library remains open.

It seems that people in Spain are going to great lengths just to access library books.

And the trend can be seen in other parts of the country as well. Since economic problems began in 2008, there has been a 50.6% increase in library borrowers in Andalusia and a 150% increase in Seville.

So what’s behind the sudden resurgence?

Some might argue that in times of uncertainty – such as economic crisis – people turn to literature for clarity; that they seek to find guidance in the words and experiences of others.

It is perhaps arguable that an element of escapism is at play. Maybe in tough times, people turn to literature, stories of past struggles, tales of better times, or just pure fantasy in order to find comfort and solace.

In Spain, however, recession is an unfortunate reality and the stark contrast between their economy and those of their neighbours is inescapable.

I’m more inclined to argue that the answer isn’t quite as poetic as a search for enlightenment; rather, people are simply searching for the cheapest possible form of entertainment.

In times of economic downturn TV’s, DVD players and movies aren’t as easily called upon for entertainment. Going to the movies with the family is liable to quite literally break bank accounts.

Even Netflix halted their expansion in Spain because demand for subscriptions wasn’t great enough.

So, it seems people have turned to libraries for amusement.

The 40% drop of sales in Spanish bookstores since 2008 and an increase in library borrowing isn’t the result of some sudden national romantic notion to preserve important historical sites. That’s just an added bonus.

Instead, it stems from the fact that when people have less money, they are less likely to buy books. And so they borrow instead.

And why do they have less money? Because unemployment rates are through the roof, which also means that they now have all the time in the world to read books.

Additionally, in some areas of Spain, where the recession has had the biggest impact, people are fighting for the survival of libraries because that’s where their children are going to find an education.

Parents can’t afford to pay for Internet access, nor can they afford to buy brand new textbooks… so they send them to the local library.

Libraries making comeback - Photograph of children's library

In the digital age libraries are still an important place of learning for children

 

And this trend isn’t limited to Spain; you can see it in countries all over the Western world that have also been hit by recession.

Recent library lending figures in the UK reveal that in spite of public spending cuts that have resulted in the downsizing and closure of public libraries, children’s borrowing figures have increased from 74 million in 2005 to 81.8 million in 2012.

Statistics also indicate that digital book borrowing rates from libraries have increased dramatically in countries such as America.

But this isn’t the case in Spain because a) the average person can’t afford to buy an e-reader in the first place and b) the digital book scene in Spain is more sluggish than elsewhere.

So people in economically challenged parts of the Western world, like Grenada, Spain, turn to libraries, because without them, they wouldn’t even be able to afford the pleasure of entertainment and the necessity of education.