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Public Libraries as Venues for Cultural Programming

Types of Cultural Programming at Public Libraries

The vast majority of public libraries (86%), serving populations of over 5,000, offer some form of cultural programming for adults, according to a 1998 survey of Cultural Programs for Adults in Public Libraries conducted by the American Library Association (ALA). While the most common forms of programming are literary in nature -- e.g., book discussions (61%) and author readings/presentations (59%) -- a sizable minority of libraries also play host to lecture series (44%), musical performances (42%), dramatic performances (23%), and dance performances (14%). One in five public libraries (20%) also offers film series. [Johnson, Debra Wilcox. 1999. Cultural Programs for Adults in Public Libraries: A Survey Report. Chicago IL: American Library Association]

Bar graph: Cultural programs offered by public libraries -- 1998 (Cultural Programs for Adults in Public Libraries: A Survey Report)

In addition, seven in ten libraries (70%) reported hosting locally developed cultural exhibits during the 12-month period prior to the survey. Four in ten (38%) hosted traveling cultural exhibits during the last year.

Libraries serving larger populations are more likely to offer cultural programming than are libraries serving smaller populations (with one exception -- reading incentive programs). However, even among libraries serving populations of less than 25,000, more than half (59%) offer book discussion programs and nearly half (46%) offer author readings/presentations.

Bar graph: Cultural programs offered by public libraries -- 1998: literary programs. (Survey of Cultural Programs for Adults in Public Libraries 1998)

Bar graph: Cultural programs offered by public libraries -- 1998: non-literary programs. (Survey of Cultural Programs for Adults in Public Libraries 1998)

Libraries are split on how central adult cultural programming is to their mission -- 47 percent say it is central to their library's mission, while 45 percent say it is not. The remaining 8 percent are unsure how central such programming is to their library's mission. Libraries serving larger communities are the most likely to view adult cultural programming as central to their mission. Nevertheless, a large minority of libraries serving populations of more than 5,000, but less than 25,000 people (44%) also sees this as central to their mission.

Pie chart: Centrality of cultural programming to library's mission -- 1998. (Cultural Programs for Adults in Public Libraries: A Survey Report)

Bar graph: Centrality of cultural programming to library's mission -- 1998: by size of population served. (Survey of Cultural Programs for Adults in Public LIbraries 1998)

Frequency of Cultural Programming

The 1998 American Library Association survey on Cultural Programs for Adults in Public Libraries collected information on the number of literary programs and cultural exhibits that were offered by each library during the 12 months prior to the survey. (Such data were not collected, however, for other forms of adult cultural programming at libraries, such as lecture series, musical performances, dramatic performances, etc.)

The most frequently offered type of cultural programming at public libraries is book discussion programs. The median frequency of book discussion programs (among the 61% of libraries that offered such programs) was once a month. Author presentations and/or readings (offered by 59% of libraries) tended to be offered, on average, between 2 and 11 times per year. Adult reading incentive programs (offered by 20% of libraries) tended to take place on an annual basis at the libraries that offer them. The frequency of creative writing workshops (offered by 18% of libraries) tends to vary a great deal -- three in 10 libraries that offered such workshops (31%) presented them on a monthly or even more frequent basis, while four in 10 (39%) offered them no more than once a year. [Johnson, Debra Wilcox. 1999. Cultural Programs for Adults in Public Libraries: A Survey Report. Chicago IL: American Library Association]

Frequency of Literary Programs at Public Libraries
  % of libraries offering program Once a month or more 2 to 11 times a year Once a year or less Other/don't know
Book discussion programs 61% 70% 17% 9% 5%
Author readings/presentations 59% 7% 41% 30% 22%
Adult reading incentive programs 20% 6% 13% 68% 13%
Creative writing workshops 18% 31% 17% 39% 13%

Among the seven in ten public libraries (70%) that hosted a locally developed cultural exhibit during the 12 months prior to the survey, the median number of exhibits hosted was six. One in four public libraries (24%) reported hosting 12 or more such exhibits during the 12 months prior to the survey, while 7% reported hosting 24 or more.

The majority of libraries (62%) did not host any traveling cultural exhibits during the 12 months prior to the survey. About one library in six (17%) hosted one traveling exhibit during that period, while about one in five (21%) hosted two or more.

Pie chart: Number of locally developed cultural exhibits hosted in past 12 months. (Survey of Cultural Programs for Adults in Public Libraries 1998)

Number of traveling cultural exhibits hosted in past 12 months

 

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