Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Turn and face the strain

Some people just can't see the justification to spend money on the library. It's legitimate to discuss priorities for public funds, but some folks just think that we ought to be a 1950s library. Some think we are a 1950s library, only with pretensions.

Sorry. The world has changed and so have we. And things will keep changing, and the library will help people adjust to those changes.

Among assertions I disagree with:

  • it's wrong for the library to provide Internet
  • it's wrong for the library to circulate anything but books
  • it's wrong that there are lots of children in the library -- too noisy!
  • it's wrong that anyone can use a cell phone anywhere in the library
  • it's wrong that I can't use my cellphone everywhere in the library
  • it's wrong that some parts of the library are noisy
  • it's wrong that some parts of the library are quiet
We're not your grandma's library, but we still have the same values, and some new ways to fulfill them. It was way back in 1969 that the Wilson Library Bulletin published the famous "No Silence" sign, indicating a sea change from traditional roles to more dynamic libraries.

Since then, not purely on our own initiative, but in responses to changes, we've changed further. We've responded to changes in technology, and even more, to changes in community needs. Yes, we circulate media, including a lot of DVDs you won't find in video stores. Yes, we provide public Internet, along with instruction and expert assistance in how to use it as well as free wi-fi and value-added databases. Yes, we provide books in many formats, including print, large print, download, audio, audio download -- and we believe books will be important for a long time. Yes, we provide meeting rooms for community groups, study rooms for small groups, and educational and cultural programs for all ages. We educate, inform, digitize,collect and gather. We help children and families learn to love reading. We provide everyone with opportunities to learn whatever they want, and a variety of viewpoints on any issue you care to name.

Despite changes, we're doing what libraries have always done: collect, organize, preserve, and make available the cultural record. And we're doing what American public libraries have always done: providing opportunities for everyone to change their life and improve their choices on their own terms.

They used to call this "the people's university" and now they call it "libraries transforming lives." It's what we do, and the need for it is not getting less, nor is the need for people to come together in community.

Communities that support such efforts are better places to live, work and raise a family.

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