Friday, September 12, 2008

Libraries Thrive in Wyoming

The Economist reports that three-quarters of the 86,000 residents in Laramie County (in Wyoming) hold library cards. In 2005-2006, the average Wyoming resident checked out nine library books. During the same time period, the average in California was five and the average in Washington, DC was just two.

The Economist speculates that this phenomenon comes from the well-stocked libraries in Wyoming and also from the programming (book clubs, book mobiles, etc.). I can't really believe that. The Houston library has an enormous collection, plenty of excellent programming, and convenient branches scattered throughout the city. Nevertheless, I'd estimate that fewer than one in five Houstonians has a library card. So, why do people in Wyoming use their libraries more than people who live in cities like Houston or Washington, DC?

In small rural towns, I suspect the central library serves as a community gathering spot--a place you can share with friends and neighbors. In larger cities, the chance of seeing anyone you know in a major branch of a library is pretty slim. Also, small rural towns have limited access to cultural activities. Spending the day at the library is one of your best choices. In a major city, the libraries must compete with the art galleries, the live music venues, the museums, the numerous bookstores, the thousands of restaurants, the serious shopping, etc., etc. I'm sure there are other reasons, but these are the ones that seem mostly likely to me.


Anonymous said...

Another reason may be the lack of bookstores. In rural towns, the library is often the closest source for a good book; the nearest bookstore might be a town or two away.


Marie said...

Sounds reasonable to me! It also probably depends on the culture of the city, and how much PR the library does to get the word out. Intersesting!