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Libraries Valuable and Used Says Study

A new study from The Pew Charitable Trusts found that while libraries are slashing budgets, cutting costs and laying off staff, the services they provide are more valuable than they have ever been.

The study reports that libraries are "multi-use community centers" helping patrons find jobs, connect to health information and to government services and benefits.

The study looked at fifteen metropolitan libraries. Claire Shubik-Richards is the author of the study, entitled "Libraries in the City: Changing Demands and a Challenging Future." Richards is a consultant for The Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative. She said usage is up even though funding is down.

"Only a few cities that we looked at — Pittsburgh, Columbus and L.A.— have the voters taken to the polls to say this is a resource that we value and we are willing to fund it more," said Richards.

Based on circulation, library visits, and computer usage, Pittsburgh fell into the top half after Detroit, Baltimore, Seattle and Atlanta.

Historically, libraries have been community centers. It's what Andrew Carnegie envisioned when he established his public library system. Although patron demand has morphed through the years, Richards said the spirit is the same.

"When Carnegie was building his first libraries, they had stages and they had pools. Now they have computers and wireless and English as a Second Language and things that just couldn't have been envisioned at the beginning of the 19th century," she said.