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The Public Library Renaissance

Fewer people bought books, CD’s, and DVD’s in 2008 than in the year before. The number of moviegoers and concertgoers shrank last year, too, though rising ticket prices in both cases offset declining sales. Theater attendance, overall, is also down.
We usually hear about these declines in isolation. But taken together, they seem to suggest that cultural pursuits across the board are on the decline. Indeed, if nobody seems to be out buying books, movies, and music, what are they doing with their leisure time instead?
Apparently: going to the library. The Boston Globe reports that public libraries around the country are posting double-digit percentage increases in circulation and new library-card applications:

Checkouts of books, CD’s, and DVD’s are up 15 percent at the main library in Modesto, Calif. In Boulder, Colo., circulation of job-hunting materials is up 14 percent. Usage of the Newark Public Library in New Jersey is up 17 percent. Library-card requests have increased 27 percent in the last half of 2008 in San Francisco. The Boise Public Library reported a 61 percent increase in new library cards in 2008. In Brantley County, Ga., library computer usage was up 26 percent in the last quarter.

Dubner has wondered whether public libraries could be invented today if they didn’t already exist, and we’ve blogged about how museum attendance dwarfs major-league sports game attendance.
As consumer spending recedes in the face of the credit crisis, will libraries become more popular than shopping malls as a destination?
Maybe it’s time to ask your local librarian when she’s planning to install the food court.