Rising to the challenge : a look at the role of public libraries in times of recession

Rooney-Browne, C. (2009) Rising to the challenge : a look at the role of public libraries in times of recession. Library Review, 58 (5). pp. 341-352. (https://doi.org/10.1108/00242530910961765)

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The purpose of this paper is to discuss the role public libraries play in times of economic crisis and to highlight the potential impact of recession on the future development of public library services. The article focuses on preliminary statistics and anecdotal evidence from library communities in the UK and the USA. Early evidence suggests that public library usage rises as the economy declines. Public library authorities in the UK and USA have reported huge increases in visitor numbers, shifts in societal expectations, and demands for specific “job related” resources and services. Although public libraries have emerged as vital services in times of recession it is perceived that they will be subject to ongoing review over the next few years as governments and local councils attempt to cut public spending. At the time of writing very little official research had been conducted to investigate the impact of this latest recession on public library usage. Therefore, the findings are based on early statistical and anecdotal evidence, available via websites, forums and blogs. This article presents a case for public libraries as essential services with the potential to empower, educate, transform and inspire individuals and communities in times of crisis. It should be of interest to those working in public libraries and those documenting their impact. This article represents an attempt to document the role of public libraries in the early stages of a major global recession. It highlights that although the latest economic downturn has created many opportunities for public libraries there is an urgent need to address the great many risks that public libraries will inevitably face as a result of this recession.