My local library is in a well-appointed historic building on the town green, ideally situated in the center of community business where there are open areas to sit and read. Inside, the space is tight. Administrators have been campaigning for financial support from the town government as well as vocal support from the community to renovate the structure and expand the space. Library supporters banded together to form a modernization committee who are busy surveying residents to collect information on library use and opinions on the proposed reconfiguration. Frankly, I don’t know what to tell them.
I was a frequent patron of the library but became disillusioned. The books were sometimes dirty. Finding hairs in between the pages made me squeamish. Also, the noise elevation indicated the shush factor for which libraries are notorious, no longer exists. Though there was a tiny designated “quiet room” that fit a few people, to me it felt more like detention.
There was a time when libraries were the only locality for free books. Needless to say, that is no longer the case. As we all know, there are countless free books and research materials online. I traded in my library card for a Kindle Paperwhite quite some time ago. I can download eBooks, read in any light, transport them anywhere and keep them forever. Though my library does have eBook options, their system is compatible with limited devices, which does not include mine.
Still, there is something nice about having a town library. It’s a landmark and a symbol of community. Hypocritical, I know. I suppose the question is who they serve. Today, it seems that libraries develop programs and schedule them primarily for children and seniors. They’re missing everyone in between.
If libraries are going survive, they need to expand their audience and provide learning tools and materials that are not readily available to the general public. Libraries could reinvent themselves as educational centers, not just book repositories; a place where people can go to expand their knowledge in a way that is relevant today. Though this is challenging given the expansive information accessible through the Internet, change is feasible. There was a time when all museums were a “look, but don’t touch” environment until someone came up with the idea that museums can be interactive and high-tech. To adapt to today’s world, library leadership would need to move away from books as the primary offering, explore educational needs across all sectors and creatively fill that need.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours? Do you use the library? Would you miss it if it became extinct?