[README] Is the Public Library Obsolete?
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 (and paper books) 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?
The Netscape Navigator web browser was released in 1994, bringing multimedia content and easy access to a world of knowledge to non-technical users. It wasn't long before pundits predicted the death of the library.
Despite what surveys say about decreasing library usage, libraries’ in-house usage statistics say just the opposite. In fact, public libraries are busier than ever; the per capita number of visits to libraries has increased 23% from 1994 to the present, and the number of items checked out annually increased by the same percentage.
According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, there are slightly more public libraries now; their numbers have inched up from 8,921 in 1994 to 9,216 in 2017 (the most recent survey). 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.
The Denver Public Library, for example, 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. A friend who lives in Denver tells me that the place is packed from opening to close, every day. All are welcome, including the homeless with backpacks the size of mini-fridges. Yet surprisingly, the restrooms are immaculate and the security guards are friendly but bored.
[ 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. I live in a rural town in New York state, and my local library is buzzing with activity. In addition to physical books and videos, there are computer classes, music events, and various club meetings. Patrons can "borrow" digital items as well. In my article Who Needs Netflix When You Have a Library Card?, I described the Kanopy service, which provides library members with free streaming access to movies and TV shows.
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 20 Jun 2019
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- [README] Is the Public Library Obsolete? (Posted: 20 Jun 2019)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved