Patience and Fortitude: The New York Public Library During the Great Depression and Today’s Economic Crisis
Today, library hours and services are threatened in municipalities across the country. New York is not exempt, particularly with the proposed City budget cuts. Yet we also read and watch various news reports about increased use of libraries during this current economic downturn. At The New York Public Library, we're seeing substantial changes in use. Not surprisingly, attendance and circulation are up. Attendance is up by 13% in the last year, and circulation has increased to 21.1 million in 2008, up from 17.2 million in 2007. Users are seeking information to help them through tough times and are also using the Library’s collections and programs as ways to escape from it all.
Three weeks ago, we surveyed participants in public programs and training classes and found that more than one third of them were unemployed and searching for jobs. In the last four months, we have documented an increase of 38% in unique users searching for and using job information on the Library’s website. And from the front lines, Library staff members are reporting increasing questions from users about all kinds of related topics, from unemployment insurance to resumé writing.
Over the next several weeks, I'll be highlighting ways in which The New York Public Library is responding to its users' needs during the current financial crisis as well as exploring the Library’s historical role during periods of economic hardship, specifically during the Great Depression. I’ll be posting on a more-or-less weekly basis, and I invite those from the larger library community – staff and users – to contribute their experiences and thoughts, as well. In particular, I'll touch upon the impact of the economy -- then and now -- on library attendance and circulation, program offerings, reference questions, and materials purchases. I'll also share details of new programs developed in response to increased demand for certain services. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia used to conclude his colorful radio broadcasts with the words "Patience and Fortitude" to give solace and strength to his listeners, while acknowledging the hard times they faced. Mayor LaGuardia also nicknamed The New York Public Library’s lions Patience and Fortitude for the qualities he felt New Yorkers needed to survive the Great Depression. Those great lions have endured, as has the Library. Let’s hope the qualities have endured, as well.
Next installment: "Open Doors, Open Minds"