Libraries, newspapers, PBS, and brick-and-mortar stores are all dead as the dodo, right?
Times change. Roles change. And that’s OK. For today, let’s just talk about the first item on that list above.
September is Library Card Sign-Up Month and it’s possible that there’s never been a more robust and relevant service to our community than the public library — right here, right now. “From finding a job, starting a new business, to getting homework help and becoming more engaged in your community, a library card offers limitless opportunities to transform lives through education and lifelong learning,” says the American Library Association of its month-long campaign.
It’s easy (and incorrect) to conflate libraries with books. For a century the library’s mission was firmly entrenched in the print medium because that is what existed to be catalogued. But the library is so much more than bound volumes.
It is a hallowed place for tomes of knowledge and tales of suspense, yes. But as quickly as the Internet is changing our lives, the role of the library is reshaping.
They are not only repositories of great literature but community centers.
They are study places and play areas. They are buildings where help is offered. They are places to download digital books, to see puppet shows, to play video games, to listen to Beethoven’s symphonies, to learn to use software, to take an art class, to build a craft, to learn to sew, to take a seminar, to build with blocks, to see jugglers perform, and to trace your family’s genealogical roots.
“A free library card is essential to people of all ages,” said ALA president Sari Feldman. “Through our support of education, employment, entrepreneurship, engagement and empowerment, libraries are transforming to create individual opportunity and community progress. Libraries have proven to be a safe haven in times of crisis, a bridge across the digital divide and a catalyst for content creation through nontraditional resources such as 3D printers, recording studios, culinary classrooms, and lendable tools.”
According to the 2015 State of America’s Libraries report, public and school libraries are now viewed as community anchors, places where academic life and recreational life are brought together.
A December 2014 report claims there were 1.5 billion visits to public libraries in the U.S. last year. That not only means libraries are being used, but that usage has increased 21 percent over the past decade.
More than 2.2 billion materials were circulated at public libraries during that time — a 28 percent increase. And library computers were used 340.5 million times.
The job of libraries is to make ideas available to all who seek them. Librarians are doing that job well. They are doing it on shoestring budgets and often with reduced hours and greater workday demands.
They are heroes.
Now if only we could get them to open in-library coffee shops….