By Mary Velan
Libraries have a rich history of providing vital services to communities. Despite more people finding information online, residents are still interested in preserving libraries as key components to community growth and development. To do so, however, libraries must adapt to the needs and expectations of modern society, which includes offering digital resources and up-to-date skills development opportunities.
What The People Want
A recent survey from Pew Research Center revealed 65 percent of residents over the age of 16 felt closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community. Therefore, it is in the best interest of municipalities to modernize libraries to ensure they offer a sustainable benefit to the community. The results showed what Americans want out of their public libraries including:
- Support for local education
- Services for special constituents such as veterans, active duty military personnel and immigrants
- Assistance for local businesses, job seekers and those looking to upgrade their work skills
- Adoption of new technologies such as 3-D printers and services to help patrons learn about high-tech gadgetry
Despite Americans wanting to preserve their public libraries, attendance nationwide in the institutions has declined as of late. According to the survey:
- 46 percent of Americans over the age of 16 say they visited a library or a bookmobile in-person in the prior year, compared to 48 percent in 2013 and 53 percent in 2012
- 22 percent of Americans over the age of 16 used library websites in the past year, compared to 30 percent in 2013 and 25 percent in 2012
- 27 percent of those who visited a public library used its computers, internet connection or Wi-Fi signal to go online in the past 12 months, compared to 31 percent in2012
- 50 percent of those who used a public library website in the past 12 months used a mobile device such as tablet or smartphone, compared to 39 percent in 2012
This data suggests that libraries are valued by the public, but may be more useful if information and resources were available in digital formats for increased accessibility and convenience.
What About The Books?
The push for digital capabilities underscores one major problem for public libraries: what to do with their vast collections of print books and materials. Around 70 percent of Americans over the age of 16 think libraries should definitely or maybe move some print books and stacks out of the buildings to free up public space for tech centers, reading rooms, meeting rooms and cultural events. Only 25 percent are completely opposed to moving some books out of library space, Pew Research Center reported.
While the public is pushing for more digitization of resources, people do not necessarily think libraries should shrink in size. Rather, 64 percent of Americans over the age of 16 say libraries should definitely have more comfortable spaces for reading, working and relaxing. This suggests people value the public space offered by libraries, even if its information and resources are accessed online.
The Surrey City Centre Library in Vancouver has become a hot spot for many young entrepreneurs looking to collaborate on business ventures. The library has set aside maker spaces, which are similar to co-working spaces, where users can build innovative tools in a cooperative space with shared resources. Many users of the maker spaces leverage the tools to jump start invention projects before they can afford to rent their own workspace, Business Vancouver reported.
Modern Services Expectations
One expectation of public libraries that has remained strong is providing support to local educational ecosystems. Americans over the age of 16 want modern libraries to promote digital and information literacy through a variety of community programs:
- 85 percent of Americans say libraries should definitely coordinate with schools in providing resources for children
- 85 percent say libraries should definitely offer free literacy programs to help kids prepare for school
- 78 percent believe libraries are effective at promoting literacy and love of reading
- 65 percent maintain libraries contribute to helping people decide what information they can trust
- 78 percent say libraries should definitely offer programs to teach people how to use digital tools such as computers, smartphones and apps
- 75 percent say libraries have been effective at helping people learn how to use these technologies
About 42 percent of Americans who used a public library website or mobile app in the past year did so to conduct research or for homework help. Similarly, 60 percent who used a public library computer or Wi-Fi signal to go online used the tools for research or school work, Pew Research Center reported.
But libraries are not there to assist in schoolwork alone. The study found 52 percent of Americans over the age of 16 think libraries should definitely create programs for local businesses or entrepreneurs. Likewise, 45 percent say libraries should definitely purchase new digital technologies to allow people to explore how to use them.
The Christian County Library in Missouri recently received two grants to help fuel efforts to strengthen the community. The library was awarded a $6,211 Racing to Read Early Literacy grant to support its early literacy programs. The library’s Racing to Read initiative helps families incorporate reading activities into their daily lives. The Christian County Library also received a $17,325 Technology Mini-Grant to fund the replacement of all its public computers and tech equipment, the Springfield News-Leader reported.
Furthermore, the survey revealed public libraries help individuals and families access health information:
- 73 percent of Americans over the age of 16 say libraries contribute to people finding the health information they need
- 42 percent who have gone online at a library using its computers, internet connection or Wi-Fi have done so for health-related searches
Finally, 65 percent of Americans over the age of 16 say closing their public library would have a major impact on their community, while 32 percent argue closing the library would have a major impact on them or their family. Therefore, municipalities should identify the specific needs of local constituents and adjust public library services to ensure demands are met and community growth is supported.