[READ] Are Public Libraries Obsolete?
State and local governments are under pressure to cut every unnecessary expense they can, even funding to public libraries. With the vast amount of information available through the Internet, most of it free, it seems that libraries are superfluous relics of a long-gone, offline era. Indeed, Americans report in surveys that they are using libraries less and less. But is that really accurate? Read on...
Why Haven’t Libraries Died Yet?
Libraries’ in-house usage statistics say just the opposite of those surveys. In fact, public libraries are busier than ever; the per capita number of visits to libraries increased 23% from 1994 to 2012, and the number of items checked out annually increased by 23%.
Also, there are slightly more public libraries now; their numbers have inched up from 8,921 in 1994 to 9,082 in 2012 (a gain of 2.14 percent). The only major statistic that decreased was “number of questions asked of librarians,” which declined 18%. The Internet, it seems, is taking a load off library staff.
But people want libraries to evolve. The Pew Research Center’s surveys indicate that the American public wants public libraries to support local education; serve special constituents such as veterans, active-duty military personnel and immigrants; help local businesses, job seekers and those upgrading their work skills; and embrace new technologies such as 3-D printers and provide services to help patrons learn about high-tech gadgetry.
Dave, a friend of mine in Denver reports that the Denver Public Library is doing a fantastic job of meeting these expectations:
“The entire third floor of Denver's main library is a "Community Technology Center" that sports over 100 networked terminals. Specialized terminals for video calls are also available, along with scanners, color laser printers, and other peripherals. Black and white prints are a dime, color laser prints $0.50.
“A WiFi lounge has comfy armchairs. A dozen classrooms constantly host free lessons in Office, Web design, eBay marketing, job-hunting, and other skills.
The Library Evolves
“Two other floors of the 7-story building harbor art galleries open to the public at no charge. They have an ever-changing array of local artists. All are welcome, including the homeless with backpacks the size of mini-fridges. The place is packed from opening to close, every day. Yet surprisingly, the restrooms are immaculate and the security guards are friendly but bored.
WorldCat connects you to more than 10,000 libraries worldwide. You can search many libraries at once for an item and then locate it in a library nearby. If your local library permits remote checkout of an item, you can use WorldCat to check out a book, music CD or video. Some digital items (like audiobooks) can be directly viewed or downloaded.
[ Denver Public Library Community Technology Center (photo taken after hours to protect patron privacy) ]
It’s not just big-city central libraries that offer such hospitality, reports Dave, who hitch-hiked through the Southwest with his laptop from 2010 to 2013. In nearly-abandoned Arizona mining towns, he could count on a local library for free Internet, even when the library was closed.
“They just took my driver’s license data and gave me login credentials that worked from a picnic bench outside,” he says.
Why isn’t the Internet killing public libraries, as many predicted? Simply because 65% of Americans age 16 and over say that closing their public libraries would have “a major impact” on their communities that they emphatically do not want. Government may shortchange libraries, shortening hours and reducing staff and purchasing budgets, but it won’t get away with doing away with libraries.
How are the public libraries in your area? What are they doing to remain relevant and essential in the digital age? What services do you want them to offer, and how are you willing to pay for them? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 3 May 2016
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Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved