The public library system has been predicted to become obsolete for as long as I can remember. It was thought that with the rise of technology and the ease of access to various pieces of information, that there simply wouldn’t be any need for the institution any longer. I was one of those people that thought they’d go the way of the video rental stores and simply die out.
When I was younger I had hardly stepped foot in them, only periodically stopping in for a book or two in order to complete a research assignment. If I used them more than a handful of times a year, that was a lot. The only time I remember actively going was for a chess club back when I was in elementary school, or when my older brother needed to stop and pick something up (he was an avid reader).
Turns out, my experience with libraries was not the norm then and it’s certainly not the norm now. In a recent article by Wayne Wiegmand for the Oxford University Press, he provides a statistical look at the use and public opinion of libraries has changed over the years.
According to a 2013 report by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, every major institution has fallen in public esteem except three; first responders, the military, and libraries. The article also points out that studies have been able to conclude from those surveyed that over 90% believe libraries are important to their communities, to go along with the 98% who claimed their experience was positive.
In 2012 there were more public libraries than at any other point in history, with 17,219, which is a 21% increase over the past decade. 93 million Americans attended a public library program (38% increase over eight years), 65 million of whom were children (24% increase over ten years). There were also 2.2 billion items circulated, which is a 17% increase per capita over ten years. Libraries also supplied users with access to 250,000 internet-ready computers, which is a 100% more per capita than the previous decade.
It may seem strange that in a world that continues to grow and connect together via the internet, cell phones, or through other smart devices that people would not only be using libraries, but using them more frequently. That’s likely because the role of what libraries provide has changed drastically over time. They still provide the traditional resources that everyone knows about, but the push into the technology and creative fields with makerspaces and media labs has really opened the doors to an entirely different group of people.
There are more services than ever before, from 3D printing to design software, from traditional books to eBooks, and various other programs that were not available previously. Here at the Dover Public Library, we’ve seen a large influx of patrons taking advantage of these different services and programs that we offer. These offerings compliment the traditional services, helping to enrich the experience of library users by providing them with additional resources all in one place.
Only after having worked in a library have I really begun to appreciate everything they have to offer. The dedication to providing the community with what they want and need is a truly impressive thing. It is because of this that I now believe libraries will be around a lot longer than most had originally thought, and I’ll continue to visit them, even if I’m not working in one.
For further reading and statistics be sure to read the article by Wayne Wiegand.