Claim: After a 1977 episode of Happy Days aired, the American Library Association reported a nationwide 500% increase in library card applications from children.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2007]
Origins: The rise to popularity of any new entertainment medium is inevitably followed by editorials decrying its inordinate influence on the public (usually for the worse), especially among children (also for the worse). Films, radio programs, comic books, pop music, television series, and video games have all been cited, at one time or another, as prompting socially unacceptable and criminal behavior among their youthful consumers. Such analyses are typically followed by others disclaiming the medium as the issue rather than the message, opining that all forms of entertainment can have either beneficial or deleterious effects on their audiences, depending upon the material presented rather than the medium used to convey it.
Perhaps the most well known counter-example to the "television is bad for children" argument is one which was prompted by the series Happy Days. In a fifth-season episode of that show ("Hard Cover," also known as "Fonzie Gets His Library Card," original air date
We have no idea whether Happy Days sparked an increase in library-founded romances, but by the start of the series' seventh season the rumor was afloat that its "Hard Cover" episode had spurred a tremendous rise in the issuance of library cards to youngsters:
(This was borne out last season by an episode called "Fonzie Gets His Library Card." After the show — where Fonzie told how important it was to read — the American Library Assn. (ALA) reported that the number of library cards among kids 9 to 14 increased 500%.)
Search as we might, we found no documentation that the American Library Association (or any other similar organization) reported a large increase in library card requests across the U.S. in the aftermath of a September 1977 Happy Days episode; the earliest mention of this purported phenomenon came in a September 1979 Los Angeles Times article (quoted above) about the show's upcoming seventh season, in which it was routinely presented as fact. Moreover, the ALA itself notes in its online FAQ that not only was it unable to verify that any library organization or publication had reported such a claim, but that the data necessary to have documented such a claim wasn't available:
The number of library cards in the United States is one statistic that isn't collected for the Public Libraries in the United States federal survey series by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Neither does a number appear in The Bowker Annual Library and Book Trade Almanac. There's a hesitation to collect and present such numbers, due to the fact that the accuracy of them would vary from library to library.
"It's a new territory and it's heavy territory," said producer Garry Marshall, "but we are committed to it. This is a semipermanent change."
"We could be taking a chance, but I don't think so," said Marshall. "It is time for this show to stretch its wings and move into the uneasy years of the '60s. We're going to take on the little things like longer hair and espresso coffee along with the appearance of the first hippies and the disappearance of the happy innocence of the '50s."
"We just can't sit still and not use the enormous power that this show has achieved, and we can't get frozen in the '50s."
Several officials at Paramount Television told The Times that there are also other reasons for the change. "Marshall and a lot of other people connected with the show are sick of the show's achievements being dismissed by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and other groups," said one executive. "It is routinely passed over for Emmys and other awards in spite of the level of its acting. No show has been ignored like this since the early days of television."
Last updated: 20 August 2013
Brooks, Tim. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows. New York: Ballantine Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4 (pp. 580-582). Brown, Peter. "A Change for 'Happy Days'." Los Angeles Times. 4 September 1979 (p. F8). Brown, Peter, and Richard Barsh. "A Week in the Life of Happy Days." Los Angeles Times. 10 January 1982 (p. L1). Gunther, Marc. "'Happy Days' Reaches a Milestone." The Hartford Courant. 30 October 1983 (p. YY4). Kevles, Betty Ann. "New Study Favors Television Literacy." Los Angeles Times. 10 October 1984 (p. G2). The Baltimore Sun. "Not-So-Happy Days." 14 September 1979 (p. B5).