library It seems that not just school libraries are in danger of being considered “luxuries.” A Chicago Fox News story (found via BoingBoing) casts a gimlet eye on the Windy City’s public libraries, which Chicago finances to the tune of $120 million per year—2.5% of yearly property taxes.

The article wonders whether libraries are necessary now that the Internet and e-books are around, and whether the money could be better spent elsewhere. The reporter says she spent an hour in Chicago’s Harold Washington Library, one of the largest and busiest libraries in the nation, and counted 300 patrons, most of them using Internet resources rather than bookshelves. As if that’s supposed to prove anything.

As news stories go, this is really just a puff piece. And it’s Fox News on top of that, whose slogan “fair and balanced” I am unable to say aloud without making little finger-quotes around it. It’s impossible to extrapolate from this piece to say for sure whether the Chicago libraries really are in danger of having their budgets cut.

But over in the UK, it may be a different story. In the last month or so, the Bookseller has reported that the PLR (Public Lending Right), the program that pays writers when their books are checked out from public libraries, may be in danger under the current budget crunch. A coalition of publishing-industry groups is forming to try to defend it.

Apart from lending books, public libraries are vitally necessary for the services they provide to people who can’t afford computers or Internet service of their own. Hopefully they can weather the current fiscal situation relatively unscathed.

Related: Peggy Kessenger: ‘Libraries are nearing extinction’


  1. I think it’s a good thing that the debate is starting about the library system and we start discussing what the core services should be. I believe that new technologies are opening up the possibilities to spend the money more efficiently and not just keep pouring it into how we’ve always done it in the past.

    The current library services are great if you live in a very big city within a mile of it. As you move out from the main library to the branches the costs rise and services decline. I think we can do better.

  2. I have no idea where Bob lives, but our branch library is tiny and still wonderful and much-used. Libraries offer so much – help finding books and research resources, job-hunting guidance, computer training, summer activities for children, a place for parents to go look at books with their kids…

    I love the internet and gadgets but am really tired of “technological development” being used as an excuse to take away yet one more public service that actually makes people’s lives better.

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