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Non-Book Items in U.S. Public Libraries

Douglas A. Galbi

 

 

Abstract

 

Libraries tend to be associated with books, but in practice they have lent a variety of media to meet the interests and media practices of their users.   Early in the twentieth century, public libraries circulated images, e.g. photographs, prints, and lantern slides.   They also lent music scores and player piano rolls.  Early in the twenty-first century, audio recordings and video disks account for roughly 25% of public librariesí total circulation.  Libraries have adapted to media change in the past and they are likely to continue to adapt to media change in the future. 

 

Keywords: media, audiovisuals, libraries

 

 

 

The opinions and conclusions expressed in this paper are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Communications Commission, its Commissioners, or any staff other than the author.

 


* * * * * 

U.S. public libraries have long lent more than books.   Early in the twentieth century, public libraries lent photographs, prints, stereographic cards, lantern slides, music scores, player piano rolls, and other items, in addition to books.  These were not merely small additions to the book collection.  For example, by 1915, the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana, had a collection of more than 2000 piano rolls.[1]  Non-book items were often quite popular.  For example, in 1914, non-book items accounted for 26% of circulation from the Cincinnati Public Library.   Of this non-book circulation, prints accounted for 50%, lantern slides 25%, and the remainder was made of a variety of other items.[2] 

 

Aggregate data on non-book items in U.S. public libraries exist from a library census in 1955.  The census showed that photographs, pictures, and prints accounted for about 20% of the total number of items in U.S. public libraries.  Sound recording and films together amounted to only 2.0% of items.[3]  While catalogued books amounted to 67% of total items, they accounted for 94% of circulation.  Audiovisual items, however, had a relatively high circulation per item.  Libraries also offered pamphlets, musical scores, projectors and screens, rapid reading kits, and ceiling-projected books.[4]  In the mid-twentieth century, some libraries included a piano room where patrons could schedule time to play the piano.[5]

 

Audiovisual holdings rose sharply from the early 1990s.  Audio recordings accounted for 2.9% of library items in fiscal year 1990, and videos only about 0.8% of holdings.  The item share of audios and videos subsequently rose, with video holdings growing substantially faster than audio holdings.  Audios and videos together amounted to 9.1% of library items in fiscal year 2005.  See Table 1.

 

Table 1

Share of Items in U.S. Public Libraries

 

Fiscal

Year

Audio

Items

Video

Items

Audiovisuals Total

1989

2.8%

0.7%

3.5%

1990

2.9%

0.8%

3.7%

1991

3.1%

1.0%

4.1%

1992

3.4%

1.1%

4.5%

1993

3.2%

1.2%

4.4%

1994

3.3%

1.3%

4.7%

1995

3.3%

1.5%

4.9%

1996

3.4%

1.7%

5.1%

1997

3.5%

2.0%

5.5%

1998

3.6%

2.2%

5.8%

1999

3.7%

2.4%

6.1%

2000

3.9%

2.7%

6.6%

2001

4.1%

3.0%

7.2%

2002

4.2%

3.4%

7.6%

2003

4.3%

3.7%

8.0%

2004

4.4%

4.1%

8.5%

2005

4.6%

4.4%

9.1%

Source: NCES Public Library Statistics, available through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  For underlying data and estimates used in this table, see Galbi (2008).

 

Audiovisuals currently account for a substantial share of aggregate library item circulation.  U.S. national library statistics do not include circulation statistics for audiovisuals.  Some state statistical compilations, however, do include audiovisual circulation.  See Table 2.  These statistics suggest that audiovisual circulation amounted to about 25% of total public library item circulation in 2006.   Statistical analysis of the effect of audiovisual item shares on total item circulation in the nation-wide library censuses suggests that audiovisual circulation amounted to 35% of total item circulation in 2004.[6]  Other data also support a substantial share of circulation.  Sarah Ann Long, a former president of the American Library Association and currently director of NSLS, a library consortium in the northern suburban region of Illinois, noted:

In 2001, the NSLS conducted an informal survey of member public libraries and found that in a few libraries, loans of AV materials were about 40 percent of all loans. The same survey was just repeated [early 2007] and the numbers have grown. Many libraries now report that AV borrowing is in the 40 percent range. The Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin said that almost 57 percent of their loans were for AV materials and the Glencoe Public Library reported that AV accounted for 63 percent of all items.[7]

While books remain a predominate sphere of library service, libraries are doing much lending beyond books.

 

Table 2

State-Level Data on Audiovisuals in U.S. Public Libraries

 

State

Year

Video Collection Share

Video Circulation Share

Audiovisual Collection Share

Audiovisual Circulation Share

Kentucky

2006

4.6%

18.4%

8.7%

28.3%

Massachusetts

2006

3.8%

23.1%

7.2%

32.4%

Rhode Island

2006

4.1%

n/a

7.1%

29.6%

Maryland

2005

4.3%

14.8%

10.1%

25.6%

New Jersey

2005

3.7%

n/a

7.4%

26%

North Carolina

2005

3.0%

11.4%

6.5%

17.3%

South Carolina

2005

3.8%

20.8%

7.6%

20.8%

Source: State compilations of public library statistics.  n/a indicates statistic not available.

 

Video borrowing from public libraries actually grew faster than video rentals from commercial providers from 1985 to 2004.  Across this period, video borrowings from U.S. public libraries grew 340%, and video rentals from U.S. commercial rental businesses grew 140%.   Hence video borrowing from public libraries rose from 6% of total videos to 12% of total videos rented and borrowed.[8]  Public libraries remain a minor source of videos relative to commercial video rental businesses.  Nonetheless, public librariesí success in offering videos demonstrates public librariesí ability to adapt successfully to changing media forms and practices.

 

 

References

 

Almquist, Sharon G. (1987).  Sound Recordings and the Library. University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Occasional Papers, No. 179 Available at http://www.ideals.uiuc.edu/bitstream/2142/3897/1/gslisoccasionalpv00000i00179.pdf .

 

American Library Association (1915), Papers and Proceedings of the Berkeley Conference of the American Library Association, July 1915, published in the ALA Bulletin, v. 9. 

 

Fleischman, John (2003). Free & public: one hundred and fifty years at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, 1853-2003.  Cincinnati: Orange Frazer Press.

 

Galbi, Douglas (2007a). Audiovisual Materials in U.S. Public Libraries Available at http://www.galbithink.org/libraries/audiovisuals.htm .

 

Galbi, Douglas (2007b). Public libraries outperformed video rental businesses Available at http://purplemotes.net/2007/08/19/public-libraries-outperformed-video-rental-businesses/

 

Galbi, Douglas (2008). Data on Item Formats in U.S. Public Libraries, 1989-2005 Available at http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=p9LENaiKJeoxLgiYUSysxFg

 

Long, Sarah (2007). Public preference shows changing face of libraries Available at http://www.librarybeat.org/read/show/300

 

United States Office of Education (1957). Statistics of Public Libraries: 1955-56. Biennial Survey of Education in the United States 1954-56, Chapter 5. Washington, DC, GPO.

 



[1] See Almquist (1987) p. 10.

[2] Data from ALA (1915). 

[3] Lending of audio records began in the late 1940s.  See Almquist (1987) p. 19.

[4] Data from U.S. Office of Education (1957) Chapter 5, Tables 9-13.  I have scaled the data by the number of libraries reporting.

[5] The Public Library of Cincinnati had a piano room from 1955 to 1982.  See Fleischman (2003) p. 82.

[6] See Galbi (2007a).

[7] See Long (2007).

[8] For data sources and calculations, see Galbi (2007b).