The information revolving around libraries is interesting to say the least. When Amazon announced that ebook sales had surpassed hard copy sales for the first time ever, the collective response was to claim that print was dead, which obviously had negative implications for organizations that have historically existed primarily to house print.
Indeed, PBS reported that while people love libraries, they don’t actually utilize them that much.
The problem is that not using a library means the local government is going to be less interested in spending the money to maintain that library. And it turns out there is a direct correlation between the revenue that a library receives and the amount that that library is utilized.
What the Institute of Library and Museum Services reports is that the less income a library receives for things like classes, copies of new best-sellers, staffing, and hours, the less it’s utilized — and the more likely it’ll close.
However, retail giant Amazon has also been opening brick-and-mortar bookstores that sell e-readers along with print books. This points to the fact that there may be hope for libraries, despite the fact that the bread-and-butter of their operations is print.
Why Libraries Are Priceless Angels
Libraries used to provide more information to the masses than any other entity, but now most people have access to the answers in the form of their smartphones and computers. Therein lies the rub — the perception can be that visiting your local library will not add value to your life. But here’s why that’s not true: at the very base level it is because libraries are more than just a great place to read. Though they are that, they grant vitality and empowerment where other organizations fail to do so.
They Fortify Communities
Libraries can be utilized to champion the needs of the community. Whether it be political action the community needs to take or special accounts for donations that are created to benefit unique needs within the community, people can use libraries as centralized meeting places.
Additionally, libraries operate on a sustainable methodology, and there are special interest groups that work to ensure that not only are libraries physical locations that operate with a green mentality, but are also conscientious in the ways that they interact with the community.
Corporate social responsibility is a growing trend as more consumers seek to connect with businesses that they relate to and respect, and for libraries, much of that is just built into their framework. The very practice of taking educational tools and providing them for continual redistribution through a community promotes the framework of sustainability. Given the fact that we live in a consumer-driven culture, this matters even for libraries.
They Champion Diversity
Sir Francis Bacon knew what was up when he said, “Knowledge is power,” and for some, the library is the only place to access knowledge and information, and thus gain a sense of agency. In larger cities especially, libraries possess multilingual features, and in true American Dream fashion, those who don’t speak English are not denied knowledge.
Virtually every minority group can find itself represented at the library. Not only do libraries give information, but they can also provide a sense of community, right off the bat, where before there was none.
They Support the Arts
Community artists have a friend in their local library. Libraries are often the first to embrace the artists around them. Librairies showcase art of every mode; they host readings and performances; and they often also have programs that bolster an artist’s chances of success.
Plus, most libraries host clubs, workshops, and classes that are open to anyone who is interested in becoming a more well-rounded artist. So, closing libraries also means stifling the artistic expression and talent that lends itself to a thriving community.
They’re Every Man’s University
Unlike much of the world, libraries do not view their patrons as mere consumers to peddle new products to. Rather, the ideology behind libraries is that they are a resource not just for information but also for those who are interested in creative output. They give agency to the poor and power to the weak.
So, those who did not receive a traditional education are welcome at the library, and so are those who are in the midst of pursuing their education. Students — the next generation of leaders — are supported within the library.
The Way Forward
We know that there are challenges facing libraries. While at their core they provide something valuable, they do need to evolve to remain relevant. Libraries exist for the community, and the community — virtually everywhere — is experiencing the power of the digital transformation.
Rebekah Smith Aldrich writes for the publication American Libraries, “Sustainable thinking refers to the alignment of a library’s core values and resources—including staff time and energy, facilities, collections, and technology—with the local and global community’s right to endure, bounce back from disruption, and thrive by bringing new and energetic life to fruition through choices made in all areas of library operations and outreach.”
Those who work in libraries know that the underlying thing that needs to happen is that libraries need to focus-in on how they can merge digital transformation with the underlying ideology that has made them the pillar of culture that they are today. Ultimately, they need to hold on to the things that make them great, while also shifting their practical methods so that they can remain culturally relevant.
There’s hope. Rutgers University has pointed out, “Rather than negatively impacting libraries, the digital revolution has had a contradictory effect… Public libraries now host more than 1.5 billion visits annually, approximately four million each day. And millions of students and researchers still turn to libraries for literacy assistance.”
Essentially, because we are so used to having so much access to information, that hunger hasn’t been fully sated by our smartphones. But again, this only works in libraries’ favor when they can meet demand, and libraries can only meet demand when they have the tools they need to thrive.
It’s important that libraries also recognize that as they merge with the digital transformation, they take the appropriate precautions to remain a trustworthy part of the community.
If libraries only adopt new technology, but fail to implement the systems that will safeguard the data of their patrons, they’ll run into trouble quickly.
What You Can Do
If you are interested in ensuring that your library has what it needs to remain the beautiful piece of your community that it either is or has the potential to become, then do your part in protecting it.
- Use it, use it, use it.
- Volunteer your time in whatever capacity you can.
- Donate what you can.
- Purchase books, merchandise, etc., from the library.
- Use your vote to support it. Contact your representatives if its well-being is at stake.
- Support the American Library Association.
- If you love your library, talk about it, tweet about it, and write about it. If you can see how specific friends’ abilities or needs would be well-suited for the library, tell them.
Robert Putnam once said, “People may go to the library looking mainly for information, but they find each other there.”
There are a lot of reasons that can draw a person to their local library, but ultimately the component that makes them so worthwhile is that those books aren’t just information, they serve as a foundation with which communities take care of and inspire one another. In the age where the internet and new technology are king, it’s vital that the library keeps its well-earned position within our society.