Saturday, August 29, 2009

4 Reasons why the Public Library is Still Important

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we asked that our friends and family write a personal note in a copy of their favorite children's book instead of sending us greeting cards. My daughter, Sophie, is now two years old and she loves the small library that has developed in the corner of her bedroom. There's no doubt between me or my wife that we want reading to be an important and valuable part of our kids' lives, and I feel like we're off to a good start. Recently, we introduced Sophie to the public library.

I shamefully admit that before our trip, I hadn't stepped foot in a public library in more than ten years. I was of the belief that modern technology was destined to bring about the slow obsolescence of the public library. To my surprise, the library is still quite useful – and apparently I'm not the only one to have figured this out. When we got home from our trip, I made a quick poll about library patronage and posted it to twitter. Here's the results:

If you're one of the 26% who haven't been to one in awhile, here's 4 facts about modern libraries that may sway you to take the trip.

Libraries are no longer a place to collect information.
If someone needs to look up some information you probably won't find them lurking around the reference desk at the local library - especially when Google is only a few keystrokes, or even a text message away from pointing them in the right direction. The library is no longer the place to go to gather information. That's not to say that it lacks purpose. With the introduction of literature clubs, children's reading groups, even daycare, the traditional vision of the library with the large “SHHHH!” sign posted by the front desk has gone the way of the Dewey Decimal system. Instead, the Library has now become a social center, an intellectual and creative outlet for a community. That's something you won't get from Google.

Libraries are more than book repositories.
While some argue that technology is bringing about the downfall, it's clear that libraries have adopted a “If you can't beat 'em, join 'em” mentality. In addition to rows of bound books, my branch also has a section of audio books, DVDs, and even free wireless access. Patrons who neglected to bring their own laptop have the option of logging on to one of the ten or so library PCs available for public use.

Libraries have gone digital.
In addition to audio books, libraries are now beginning to dabble in E-books, and specifically cater to things like the Kindle and the iPod Touch. This comes in the form of a digital bookmobile. Users download a helper application that controls E-book selections, and “signs” them out. This digital copy is processed with an expiration date. When it expires, the digital selection is no longer able to be executed by the reader, and is “returned” the the site so other users can download it. This idea of a digital library is similar to copyright-free E-book sites such as Project Gutenberg, but is extended to many new and popular titles.

Libraries set an expectation and a lifestyle for children.
In a day and age where NCLB rules from its ivory tower, more and more emphasis seems to be getting placed on teaching the skills of reading instead of teaching the value of reading. Sure, you can argue that an illiterate can't appreciate books, but are we creating a generation that looks at To Kill a Mockingbird the same way they do the reference manual for a DVD player? During my one trip to the library I saw parents reading with their kids, and I witnessed my own daughter pull (much to the librarian's chagrin) a dozen books from the shelf before choosing the one that looked most appealing. Not only are libraries an invaluable resource, but it is sadly one of the few places still remaining where books can not only be read, but experienced.
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