I’ve written before on the supposed death of libraries and print due to the creation of the Internet. The thinking goes that if someone can do something on their own that is a service normally provided by a librarian or library, that person would opt for self-service. The fallacy in that thinking is that everyone has the same skill sets, needs, and access to the same materials. Does everyone live on the Internet these days? Does everyone have a tablet and/or smartphone? Maybe, maybe not.
At the same time, not all of these devices, even with cloud support, are appropriate for all tasks. I hate typing on a smartphone screen because the on-screen keyboards are so small. I keep making corrections more than half my time even with word suggestion. I would opt for a desktop or a large screen laptop with a real keyboard if I had to do some serious Westlaw or Lexis research. But that’s me, one of the six billion people in the world without a Facebook account, or an account on Twitter or LinkedIn.
So how do people view libraries against 20 plus years of the Internet and increasingly more and more sophisticated technology? The Pew Research Center released the results of a survey yesterday that addressed this topic. It’s called Libraries at the Crossroads. The subtitle is telling: The public is interested in new services and thinks libraries are important to communities. The survey results indicate that while some uses of the library are down by small amounts compared to the last survey, libraries are an important public resource to a lot of people.
Individuals used a public library to access the Internet, look for jobs, look for information to upgrade their skills, and as a source to learn about new technologies. There is also a social component where the library is used as a meeting and teaching center. “Additionally, two-thirds of Americans (65%) ages 16 and older say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community. Low-income Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than others to say that a library closing would impact their lives and communities.”
American Library Association (ALA) President Sari Feldman released the following statement regarding the survey’s findings:
“Public libraries are transforming beyond their traditional roles and providing more opportunities for community engagement and new services that connect closely with patrons’ needs,” said Feldman. “Today’s study shows that public libraries are far from being just ‘nice to have,’ but serve as a lifeline for their users, as the survey shows more than 65 percent of those surveyed felt that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community.
“Libraries are not just about what we have for people, but what we do for and with people. Today’s survey found that three-quarters of the public say libraries have been effective at helping people learn how to use new technologies. This is buttressed by the ALA’s Digital Inclusion Survey, which finds that virtually all libraries provide free public access to computers and the Internet, wi-fi, technology training and robust digital content that supports education, employment, e-government access and more.
“Although the report affirms the value of public libraries, the ALA recognizes the need for greater public awareness of the transformation of library services, as the report shows library visits over the past three years have slightly decreased. In response, libraries of all types are preparing for the launch of a national public awareness campaign entitled ‘Libraries Transform.’
“Libraries from across the county will participate in the campaign and will work to change the perception that ‘libraries are just quiet places to do research, find a book, and read’ to ‘libraries are centers of their communities: places to learn, create and share, with the help of library staff and the resources they provide.
“This is an exciting time for libraries, as institutions transform to meet the digital and print needs of their users, and to continue to fulfill their role in leveling the playing field for all who seek information and access to technologies.”
For those who can work without libraries, feel free. Just don’t denigrate the services libraries provide as anachronistic. A lot of people like libraries and the help librarians provide. That’s not going away no matter how many devices one owns.