Are Public Libraries Still Relevant?

I confess. There is a public library within walking distance of my house. I have lived here two years and have never ventured inside. This is not to say I never visit libraries, but the ones I tend to haunt are university collections. If I want a novel or another non-fiction work outside of my areas of research, I tend to purchase books on my Kindle, go to a used bookstore, or to a Barnes and Noble.

Perhaps it is because of people like me that libraries around the world are being shuttered, or their budgets are being drastically cut.  This is a shame because there are still plenty of people who benefit from the free books and services that libraries offer.

This week, a library in Buckinghamshire, England, faced the threat of closure. Desperate to save the town’s library, the “Friends of Stony Stratford Library” organized a campaign via social media and email asking the library’s cardholders to check out the maximum amount of books allowed in order to prove to the town council that citizens want and value their library.  The response was both surprising and overwhelming: the library reported that “books had been checked out at a rate of 378 per hour.” As of January 17th, all 16,000 books had been lent.

Free circulating libraries have been around almost since the inception of the United States (although claims to be the “first” are widely disputed).  Today, there are approximately 122,101 libraries in operation, but many are threatened. Libraries have tried to keep up with the demands of the public. Most offer computers with Internet accessibility, many lend DVDs, and music, and some even lend works of art. Librarians have to be able to navigate the ever-changing technical landscape to assist patrons, and many people depend on both their knowledge and the free services they provide.

What do you think? Should libraries continue to be publicly funded and completely free to patrons? We’d like to hear your opinions.