Declining economy = increasing readership?
According to a brief article in the Chicago Post-Tribune, libraries in Lake County and Porter County Illinois are seeing a surge in circulations and a rise in patronage, owing, in part to the current economy. Its terrific to hear news such as this, since libraries have been arguably one of the most underappreciated public resources in recent memory. Of course, libraries also enjoyed a resurgence in popularity during the Great Depression, so its somewhat predictable.
In fact, the following chart from this 2007 report from the FCC on library circulation seems to indicate a sharp peak in per-user circulation during the troubled 1930’s
Its unfortunate though, that it takes an economic downturn for us to stop and take advantage of the immense asset in our public library system.
Interesting, also, that a local business owner is quoted in the same article as saying: “I think the economy works against used books stores even more.” This (at least so far) runs contrary to most of the trend we’re seeing with the sale of online used books, as consumers seem to be increasingly choosing used books over new books as a way of cutting their expenses. In fact, the only thing we’ve noticed that seems to indicate a tightening of the belt with used books is in very low price ranges, generally characterized by “pulp” fiction, such as mainstream fiction, romance, and mystery. Even then, sales appear to be up considerably compared to the same period last year, but less so compared to other price range segments.
In any case, even if used book sales are down for the short term during this time in some instances, perhaps we as booksellers should take heart in people’s rejuvenated interest in the written word. After years of reports of declining readership of books, perhaps this serves to signal that the printed word is not dying after all; that its merely been set aside while we pursue our culture’s adolescence: the interim distractions of movement, action, sound, and excitement of video and audio? Perhaps we are (re) maturing into a culture of the written word, and understanding the true personal, social and economic value inherent in reading? Thanks, in part, to the sharp winds of reality from the current economic climate.