Data Shows Going Digital Is Reviving Oregon Libraries
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Home to the books of Powell, the late Beverly Cleary, and more than 200 public libraries, Oregon is in many ways a book lover’s paradise; However, a recent report shows how Oregonians’ engagement in reading has changed dramatically in this new digital age.
Using data provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ annual survey of public libraries, a recent WordsRated report analyzed trends in the U.S. public library system since 1992 and found that despite the steep decline in-person visits, library use is more popular than ever thanks to a digital shift.
“What interests me most personally is that libraries have moved with the times and continued to grow, despite continued government underfunding,” said Nicholas Rizzo, director of research at WordsRated. “In fact, total government funding has not covered the library’s operating expenses since 1992.”
The noncommercial research organization studied more than 12.5 million data points to compile a comprehensive view of US public library trends spanning more than 30 years.
As the data used for the WordsRated study ranged from 1992 to 2019, it should be noted that the research illustrates pre-pandemic trends and does not reflect any changes due to COVID-19.
The full study can be viewed here.
Oregon’s public libraries are a good example of Rizzo’s findings. The study found that Oregon had the lowest physical collection usage in the nation at just 2.11 per capita, total collection usage in the state was 14.51 per capita – fourth highest raised in the United States.
And although research has shown that library visits in the United States have declined in 10 years and people are borrowing fewer books, there are more registered borrowers and total collections than ever.
“The logic seems simple enough, fewer people go to the library and there are fewer books borrowed, so ‘libraries must be dying’, when in fact libraries have never been so popular “, according to the authors of the study.
Despite declining use of physical collections in places like Oregon, total use of library collections hit an all-time high of 2.98 billion in 2019 in the United States, a jump of 15.96 % since 2013.
The researchers attribute this paradox to a public shift away from print and in-person library visits, and a growing popularity among digital library content such as audiobooks and e-books.
“Using only visits and borrowed materials to assess libraries is outdated as the role of libraries and the way they serve their communities evolves,” the survey says. “That’s because it doesn’t take into account how libraries are evolving to serve their communities digitally, while also evolving how they use their physical space.”
Of the 50 U.S. states, data showed Oregon had the 18th highest number of digital items borrowed per capita, with more than 8.34 million ebooks and 5.29 million audio materials included in the collection. total of 24 million items from the state library.