Are Libraries Still Relevant Today?

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Public libraries – will they still be around in 20 years? Photo courtesy of Kevin Rosseel

With the current mantra being “Google it,” as a librarian I frequently wonder what relevance, if any, a traditional library has today.

In the past, the library was not only a repository of knowledge, it was also a place to hang out and study.

However, the Internet and the ever-expanding digital gateway have resulted in the rise and prevalence of ebooks and e-libraries.

So, while libraries will remain for years to come, the number of them in existence, and their significance, will wane.

This is especially so in First World counties. However, the cost of the printed word may eventually become so high that only a few private collections will be around in another 100 years or less. The statistics on the number of libraries still operational in the USA are significant.

Library Closures in the USA

It is difficult to find actual statistics on the number of public libraries that have closed in the US in recent years. The current data is iffy at best, but the figures for budget cuts for libraries paint a grim picture.  The American Library Association (ALA) in its State of American Libraries 2012 report reveals that 23 states have seen the budget for public libraries being decreased between 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. Further information from the ALA report states that, The November 2011 questionnaire again asked about the number of libraries that had been closed as a result of funding cuts. Fewer states this year (12, compared with 17 the previous year) reported that they were aware of public library closures in their states in the past 12 months. Most states reported that fewer than five public library outlets were closed, although New Jersey reported closures between 10 and 15 and Michigan reported that more than 20 were closed.”

What Future for the Library?

Are patrons still coming to the library for books? Photo courtesy of Owen Crooks

Is there a future for libraries and if there is, what will it be like? Libraries will continue to exist in various corners of the earth, the shape, size and format may vary, but the need for accurate information will only become greater.

Many public libraries will attest to the increase in the use of Internet and other technology-driven services. Patrons do not just go to the library to borrow print books anymore, they go to use the Internet and to get value-added information.

Lucas Kavner says it all in this quote from a source, “But the library is serving multiple roles, especially during hard times. For those who cannot afford to sit at a coffee shop and buy a “four-dollar latte” to use their computer on somebody else’s Wi-Fi, Warner says, the library provides “the whole shebang”: a quiet location to work in private, a staff member willing to answer in-depth questions (about everything from applying for unemployment benefits to where one might learn more about beekeeping), and a meeting place for the community, not to mention those free film and book rentals and an increasingly long list of e-book and digital reading options.”

Public Library Closings

Additional research is necessary to fully capture the number of public libraries that have closed over the last 10 years at least. The impact on users who rely on these institutions and their services should also be examined. The ALA 2012 report is a good starting point for anyone interested in understanding of what is happening to public libraries in the USA. Although the numbers of library closings aren’t readily available, what is obvious is that mergers of libraries and downsizing of others will become the main means of saving valuable collections.

Resources:

American Library Association (ALA). The 2012 State of America’s Libraries: A Report from the American Library Association. (2012). Accessed December 6, 2012.

American Library Association. Number of Libraries in the United States. (2011). Accessed December 6, 2012.

Harvard Library Strategic Conversation. Libraries Are Obsolete: An Oxford-Style Debate. (2012). Accessed December 6, 2012.

Kavner, L. Library Budget Cuts Threatens Community Services. (2011). Huffington Post. Accessed December 6, 2012.

Resa, Ramon. Libraries: Are they Obsolete? (2011). Huffington Post. Accessed December 6, 2012.

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