Someone asked me the other day, “Why do we still have libraries? Everything I need to know, I can look it up on my phone.” Well, the word “everything” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but they had a good point. Are libraries still relevant?
The answer is a resounding “yes!” Libraries have transformed themselves over the last few years. They’ve gone from — simply a place where dusty old books are stored — to a centralized information, cultural, and social center in communities everywhere.
Libraries act as the stewards of our heritage. They are the organizers of knowledge from a multitude of sources that allow us to take a look back at where we’ve been and expand our minds with a glimpse of the future. The library provides equal access to all citizens who want to learn about the world, their country, their state, their town, or themselves. And the mediums are as diverse as the information they contain. The library gives everyone access to movies, maps, photographs, microfilm, books, newspapers, magazines, websites, audio recordings, digital video and more.
Libraries serve as more than just an information warehouse. They fill a valuable cultural and social niche within the communities they serve. They bring families together for reading nights, classes at all skill levels, lectures, hands-on activities, exhibitions, and other special events. They also serve as testing centers and quiet havens for intense study. The library is as diverse as our society, offering something for everyone regardless of social, cultural, ethnic, or financial status.
According to U.S. Census data (2008) there are nearly 10,000 public libraries throughout the United States. Over the last ten years, visits per capita have risen from 4.2 to 5.1 visits per year. Not surprisingly, the number of computers available in libraries has also increased to nearly four PCs per every 5,000 people. Although the use of printed materials at libraries has decreased slightly, the use of audio and video material has increased sharply in recent years. (source: https://harvester.census.gov/imls/pubs/pls/pub_detail.asp?id=130#)
Despite growing technology, and information available in the palm of your hand, the library system continues to grow. I believe this has happened for two reasons. First, you can’t always trust the information you read on the Internet. Sure you can do a Google search for ancient Japanese art. But you might end up on some less than reliable websites or perhaps even Wikipedia — where users can add any content they desire. This is why most instructors require students to use the library for at least part of their source material. The staff at the library can assure that the information you receive is credible and has been verified. In summary, the library is reliable.
Secondly, I believe society is longing for a sense of community. The library gives us just that. The programs and exhibits sponsored by your local library bring people together like no other facility. It’s a place that allows you hands-on accessibility, networking opportunities, and reliable expertise to enrich your learning experience. The library appeals to our very basic need of social interaction and human contact. Studies have shown how group learning and test taking increases retention and creates excitement about a particular subject that cannot be achieved by individual, secluded studying. (source: http://advan.physiology.org/content/27/3/102.full) In a nutshell, it’s fun to learn with other people and it adds a competitive element to the learning process.
Certainly, the Internet provides us with a wealth of awesome information, but it’s the library that can bring together a plethora of information sources under one roof in a social setting that is conducive to community involvement and family enrichment. This makes the library a never-ending source of inspiration and fulfillment — one that will surely be a part of our society for many years to come.
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