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Americans back a winner … when it comes to libraries

Just when you were shaking your heads at the inexplicable behaviour of Americans, from their penchant for guns to the theatrics surrounding the current presidency, some heartening news has come out of the US.

According to a recent Gallup survey, a visit to the library was by far the most popular cultural activity among Americans in 2019.

On average, respondents visited the library more than 10 times a year, while they did the second most popular activity, going to the theatre, 5.3 times in the same period.

Interestingly, it wasn’t just that Americans visited the library that was significant, but also who made those visits. While high income groups enjoyed the most activities throughout the year, it was low income earners who were most likely to visit the library.

Closer to home, library visitation also compares favourably to that of other cultural institutions. According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“In the year to July 2018, about 7.6 million people visited Australian libraries – more than went to museums (6.7 million), art galleries (6.3 million), plays (3.9 million) or musicals and opera (3.5 million). But it was the return rate that really set libraries apart. Whereas at least half of those who visited museums or the theatre went only once in the year, three-quarters of library visitors went back at least three times, and one-third visited more than 10 times. Australians make about 114 million visits to public libraries annually.”

In the US study, women were about twice as likely to visit libraries as men. However, during recent visits to my local Ballarat library, I have noticed a lot of fathers bringing their young children to the library to use the Duplo, dress ups and puppets that are available for children.

Libraries offer a safe, free and welcoming public space where fathers can entertain their children, regardless of the weather. It struck me once again that libraries offer an opportunity that is difficult to find elsewhere.

Other leisure activities surveyed in the US study included attending sporting events, live music or theatrical events and casinos. Each of these activities attracts considerable cash, through sponsorship, ticket sales or spenders. Each is heavily promoted throughout the year. None were anywhere near as popular as libraries.

Even though they are passionately supported by the public, libraries rely on government spending and attract far less hype. But the numbers are revealing. Whether to attend events, use WiFi or computers, browse books or simply entertain children, libraries have a lure among the public that Hollywood execs would die for.

Perhaps the real quiet achiever in communities in both Australia and the US, is the public library; Scott Morrison’s ultimate quiet Australian.

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