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Alaska’s Libraries – Busier Than You Know

Disclosure/Disclaimer: I am an employee of the Alaska Division of Libraries, Archives & Museums, which produced these statistics. My comments on the data are my own as a professional librarian and not as an employee of the Division.

I subscribe to a statewide mailing list for librarians in Alaska. Last week, Patience Frederiksen, the State Library’s statistics guru and compiler of Alaska Public Library Statistics, sent out a spreadsheet of highlights of the usage of public libraries in Alaska from 2002 to 2009.

If you think that the internet has killed off libraries and buildings are a waste of time, consider the following charts which I copied out of the Library’s spreadsheet (captions are mine):

Visits to Alaska’s Public Libraries

Visits to Alaska's Public Libraries are up 25% over 2002.

Items (books, musics, videos, etc) Checked Out of Alaska’s Public Libraries

Items Circulated (Borrowed) From Alaska's Public Libraries Have Risen Nearly 19% Since 2002.

Questions Asked at Alaska’s Public Libraries

People are asking more questions. Reference questions are up 43% over 2002.

People Use Computers At Alaska’s Public Libraries

This chart represents people coming into the library and sitting down at a research workstation or public internet computer. This usage is up over 46% over 2002 and doesn't include use of library provided databases at home.

In case you’re interested in the raw numbers and couldn’t read them from the charts, try this table:

Source: Public Library Statistics Compiled by Alaska State Library

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you know that I’m a strong believer in context and that statistics don’t always mean what they purport to mean. For instance, you might be thinking (and I hope you are), that maybe the rise of library use in Alaska is the simple result of population increase. Were that true, it could mean that libraries were relevant to a smaller proportion of Alaska’s population. For example, if Alaska’s population had doubled between 2002 and 2009, the 25% “increase” in library visits would be a clear sign that libraries were losing “market share.”

As it turns out, Alaska’s population only increased 8% between 2002 and 2009. I arrived at this figure by using the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s 2009 Population estimate press release at http://labor.state.ak.us/news/2010/news10-07.pdf. This press release lists end of fiscal year population estimates back to 1989. In July 2002 we had 640,643 people and in July 2009 we had 692,314 people. For me that works out to a little more than 8%. This implies that the rate of library usage is rising faster than population increase. This means that a higher proportion of Alaskans are finding their public libraries to be relevant institutions.

Please share this good library news widely, especially to anyone who honestly believes that the ‘net has made libraries irrelevant.

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