Libraries more wired, financially stressed

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NEW YORK (AP) — The state of the country’s public libraries: Higher demand, tighter funding and much more connected.

“The Condition of U.S. Public Libraries, Trends 1999-2009,” compiled by the American Library Association and released Thursday, shows a steady upward trend of visits, from 1.23 billion in 2002 to more than 1.4 billion in 2007, and a struggle for money since the recession began.

Out of 45 states reporting, 24 decreased library funding in the previous year, and money for an additional 11 states was unchanged. Nearly 15 percent of libraries said hours had been cut.

“As the poor economy continues to fuel deep library budget cuts, I’m haunted by the notion that for each hour a library is closed, and for every service lost, thousands will lose the opportunity to better their lives through education,” American Library Association President Camila Alire said in a statement.

A separate report, funded by the ALA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, shows one notable improvement: Internet access.

According to the study, 76 percent of libraries had wireless access in 2009, compared to just under 18 percent in 2004. E-book availability increased from less than 40 percent of libraries in 2006-2007, to well over 50 percent in 2008-09.

During that same time, the percentage of libraries offering online video jumped from less than 15 percent to just over 50 percent.