In a report released yesterday, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative poll of 1600 residents reveals the critical state of the Free Library, which is struggling to keep up with demand for job application assistance and childcare in an economy where hours must be cut.
>>>Of the 15 cities surveyed, “Philadelphia ranks 11th in the number of public-access computers per capita. In almost every Free Library branch, there are not enough computers to meet demand; computer use has grown 80 percent across the system in the last six years.”
>>>”Among adult library users in the last year, 34% got health information, 29% looked for jobs, 23% applied for government services or benefits, 18% studied for a test, such as a GED.”
>>>Between 2008 and 2010, government funding fell 19%. Budget cuts led to “reductions in library hours and a dramatic increase [1,000%] in temporary unscheduled closings due to staff shortages, sometimes…for days. This is a problem seen far more in Philadelphia than in the other cities.”
>>>Fifty-six percent of Philadelphians say that closing their local branch library would have a “major impact” on the neighborhood.
The cutbacks have a magnified impact on a city with a high illiteracy rate. According to the report, “An estimated 22 percent of Philadelphia adults lack basic literacy skills. By some calculations, more than half of city residents age 16 and older are ‘low-literate,’ meaning that their reading, writing an quantitative abilities do not qualify them for many of today’s jobs.”
To RSVP to a panel discussion about the role of the Free Library moderated by WHYY’s Dave Davies on March 14 at 6 p.m. at the Parkway Central library, click here.