Why Libraries are important in today's digital age.

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When was the last time you visited your local library? Do you think it will soon be outdated with the overabundance of technology available to us? Think again. Our guest blogger, Arin Wilken, a director of a small-town Wisconsin library, gives us a fresh perspective on all libraries have to offer.

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"Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future."

-Ray Bradbury

Many, if not most, people still carry with them a fairly antiquated opinion of the library: that it is a collection of dusty old books, with a librarian whose attitude is somber and surly. Memories of being ‘shushed’ as a child, or rapped on the knuckles with a ruler may still linger vividly in your mind. Yes, libraries, specifically public libraries, remain a portal to the past, however, many people do not realize that libraries are also gateways to the future.

Speaking from the perspective of a library director from a small, rural library, I can understand where some of the misconception about libraries comes from. Our library has an insufficient budget, as many libraries these days do, so we are consistently asked to do “more with less.” Speaking as a student working on his Masters Degree in Library and Information Services, I cannot wait to change those misconceptions.

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"Bad libraries build collections, good 

libraries build 

services, great libraries build communities."

-R. David Lankes

Libraries, indeed, have collections of books. We have print books, audio books, and downloadable content (in most cases, free, with your library card). There are still usually magazines, newspapers, reference materials, databases, and archival items. My little library still utilizes a forty year-old microfilm machine to view one-hundred and forty years worth of the local weekly newspaper. However, what those people with an archaic view of the library do not realize, is that just like anything else, libraries are evolving with the times, and evolving to meet the changing needs of the public.

Collections may be shrinking in the physical sense, but they are increasing in the virtual sense. Similarly, libraries, especially public libraries, are transforming from a passive location that people visit only in a pinch, into organizations that actively promote services to the public, and in turn, help to build strong communities.

In today’s current educational climate, many children are being prepared for standardized testing the minute they walk in the door for their very first day of school. I’m told by local teachers that many children do not possess the necessary social and emotional skills to cope with the rigors of modern day education. Pre-Kindergarteners and Kindergarten students used to have that time to develop those skills. Except today, many are expected to be reading by the end of Kindergarten! Early-grade teachers no longer have the opportunity to instill and help hone these crucial skills. Where then, can kids develop social, emotional, and other coping skills? In addition, where can they work on their early literacy skills, fine motor skills, and have a lot of fun doing it? Check your local public library. In addition to traditional “Story Time” programs, there is a laundry list of programs out there that allow children to learn without them ever knowing it. For fantastic examples of programming for children, visit the Association for Library Service to Children.

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"Story Time" Program.

One of many programs that allow your children to learn and develop social skills, etc. 

In addition to the myriad of children’s programs, public libraries also offer a litany of programs, workshops, and classes for older kids, teens, and adults. We recently offered an Introduction to the Computer workshop at my library, geared specifically towards older adults who “don’t even know how to turn one on.” It was a huge success!

Other libraries, who may be larger and better funded, offer things such as cooking classes, dance instruction, computer coding workshops, and just about anything you can imagine. Libraries are even starting to offer “non-traditional” items. I know of one library that allows patrons to check out cake pans; another that loans out fishing poles; and yet another that loans out household tools. Other libraries participate in coupon or seed exchanges, or partner with local community groups to perform service projects. The reach of the library and its impact is limited only by the imagination and dedication of the community it serves.

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"Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one."

–Neil Gaiman

Finally, librarians, most of us anyway, are not grumpy spinsters in cat-hair covered cardigan sweaters, as many people imagine.  Most libraries have done away with policies dictating “SILENCE” in the library. Some of us (like me) are relatively normal human-beings who enjoy normal human activities and take no pleasure in “shushing” anyone. However, as those stereotypes have dissolved, one thing has not changed. In many ways, librarians continue to be the “gatekeepers” to knowledge. “But we have the internet!” you might exclaim. “The entire history of human knowledge is at our fingertips!” Sadly, the internet is teeming with false-knowledge, distorted facts, and over-the-top opinions. Many people know how to select minimally biased, reputable, well-researched information sources. Most, unfortunately, do not.

Trained librarians then, will forever guide the inquisitive knowledge seeker to the sources of truth. Never do we force our own opinions on you, we only look to help you form your OWN opinion based on accurate, reputable, and unbiased information. In the meantime, we will also look to find new ways to educate, entertain, and enlighten the people we serve, while seeking to help the public library continue the evolution from “book depository” to “community hub.”

 

What did you think of today's article? Do you think libraries will soon be outdated in today's digital world? Share your thoughts with us in the comment box below!


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