'Nightly News' Finds Libraries 'Popular,' but Suffering from Economy; More Funding Needed

NBC News went out of its way this time to show how the American public relies on government Dec. 10 by focusing on the public library in it's "Hard Times" series.

The broadcast examined the hardships public libraries are facing in the economic downturn - at a time when people are flocking to libraries instead of the local bookstore.

"These tough economic times, as we have been saying, have forced a lot of people to find new ways of doing things to save money," "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams said. "And listen to this next one - with money so tight, the costs of books has people turning to a place where you can actually get books free, then return them for the next user. The library business, it seems, is booming. But now they could use some help in this economy."

NBC correspondent Chris Jansing interviewed a librarian that detected an uptick in "wild" behavior at one library - which Jansing deemed a result of the economic downturn.

"Wild is not a word you usually associate with libraries, but the economic downturn has made them wildly popular," Jansing said.

A Google News search indicates library usage is way up all across the country and NBC attributed that to the lackluster economy. However, Jansing also complained that in some localities the governments have had to cut library funding. No free-market solutions to the funding problems were presented in the segment such as private donations from library users.

 "But just as use of libraries is way up, many of their budgets are way down, slashed by local governments caught in the economic downturn," Jansing said. "So some are being forced to cut hours, staff and in some cases - close branches altogether."  

According to Jansing, in Philadelphia, there are plans to shut 11 of 54 branches of their library - which was met with an emotional outburst by one resident.

"I can't believe anybody is going to close this damn thing down," said one grown man in tears over a library closing Philadelphia.

According to the American Library Association, most libraries are funded on the local and state level, but they do receive funding from the federal government. The majority of appropriated federal library program funds are distributed through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to each state. The IMLS requested $271.2 million in funding from the federal government for fiscal year 2008 - a nearly 10 percent increase from just two years before.