Sarah Ann Long, a former president of the American Library Association and currently director of NSLS, a library consortium in the northern suburban region of Illinois, recently noted public library users’ interest in audiovisual materials:
In 2001, the NSLS conducted an informal survey of member public libraries and found that in a few libraries, loans of AV materials were about 40 percent of all loans. The same survey was just repeated and the numbers have grown. Many libraries now report that AV borrowing is in the 40 percent range. The Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin said that almost 57 percent of their loans were for AV materials and the Glencoe Public Library reported that AV accounted for 63 percent of all items borrowed.
Some libraries are adopting innovative collection management approaches to audiovisuals, such as having the library subscribe to Netflix.
National censuses of U.S. public libraries provide more comprehensive information on audiovisual materials in U.S. public libraries. Audiovisual materials as a percent of the number of book volumes in libraries’ collections have increased from about 3.5% in 1987 to 9.5% in 2004. The share of videos grew much faster than that of audios, with videos rising from 0.6% of book volumes in 1987 to 4.6% in 2004. Estimates based on cross-section variations in libraries’ collections indicate that videos account for about 20% of libraries circulation in 2004, and audio and visual materials together (audiovisuals), about 35%. Thus the reported figures from northern Illinois appear to be representative of the situation in the U.S. as a whole. The popularity of audio and video materials compared to books is consistent with a variety of other evidence from the communications industry.
Public libraries’ provision of audiovisual materials has received relatively little scholarly attention. The Library Media Project, which sought to foster the development of public libraries’ video collections, recently expired. Nonetheless, public libraries have provided and are likely to continue to provide many services besides lending books.
Update: Some state library websites (search them here) provide data on audiovisuals circulation. The data I’ve found are in the table below. These data suggest that audiovisual circulation for libraries across the U.S. might be closer to 25% of total circulation in 2006.
|Source: public library statistics on state websites.|