Markets Down, Library Cards Up

Will our economy survive the current meltdown? Like soothsayers reading entrails, reporters and analysts cite all sorts of indicators -- job growth, retail sales, consumer confidence, etc., to predict whether we'll all be living like hobos this time next week. (Is it time to panic when the government's website on economic indicators is down?) But market watchers have been missing a crucial indicator: library cards. According to the American Library Association, "as Americans deal with a slumping economy, U.S. libraries are experiencing a dramatic increase in library card registration . . . 68 percent of Americans have a library card, up 5 percent since 2006." Visits to the local branch are up, too, by 10 percent. Perhaps it is time to schedule a bank run.

Wanna get away? Try your local library. (Richard Drew - AP)

But wait, those crafty librarians may be using space-age technology to lure unsuspecting patrons through their doors. For instance, the Shapiro Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, has installed the Espresso Book Machine, a print-on-demand contraption that, as of Oct. 1, will be able to produce out-of-copyright books from the university's digitized collection of nearly two million whenever you, the library-card holder, want them (well, most mornings during the week). It'll take as little as five minutes to print these "perfect-bound, high-quality" paperbacks and cost around $10 per book.

So don't look to libraries for signs of economic doom. Rather, see them as proof of the entrepreneurial spirit that makes this country great.

By Rachel Hartigan Shea |  September 23, 2008; 8:05 AM ET Rachel Hartigan Shea
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