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.

4 Comments

  1. the unnecessary letter

    I think libraries provide an extremely important service to the community. It seems to me that their value isn’t so much in the books they house, but in the safe space they provide. I know of quite a few non-profit literacy organizations which rely on public libraries to serve as a free, quiet place where they can give free reading lessons to children struggling with school and illiterate adults.

  2. tamara seidel

    Our public library is very important to our family. My kids check out at least a dozen books and a movie once a week. I’d go broke buying that many books! Not only that, but as a parent, you don’t want a pile of pre-K books and early learning books following you around for the rest of your life like lost puppies, or else attempting to pawn them off in garage sales for 50 cents a pop. I don’t think people really appreciate the library as much as they should.

  3. Tukaram

    I think with e-book readers being so common library use will certainly decline (my phone is an excellent reader). And with so many people having internet access at home you don’t need the library for research as much as you used too. But I hope libraries stay around, publicly funded, and free to use. To me they are a very important institution (I say that but haven’t been to one in years). But I’m a 40 something, I’d be interested to hear the attitudes of the 20 something’s.

  4. Greg Weir

    I tend to think libraries are valuable because they give people a place to gain knowledge. As we enter a more digital age, I tend to think that libraries should start offering digital listings the way they do at places like Netflix. This will be bad for Barnes and Noble, etc., but making having money a requirement to gain knowledge negates the rationale for having a library in the first place. I like owning books, I tend to buy what I want to read, but there may be others whose context is different and need a library to learn.

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