Today marks the start of National Library Week in the United States (14-21 April). This year's topic is "Communities Matter @ Your Library." Sems like a good time to look at how much the library matters to our communities and the important role librarians play for the patrons.
According to a recent Pew Report:
"Fully 91% of Americans ages 16 and older say public libraries are important to their communities; and 76% say libraries are important to them and their families. And libraries are touchpoints in their communities for the vast majority of Americans: 84% of Americans ages 16 and older have been to a library or bookmobile at some point in their lives and 77% say they remember someone else in their family using public libraries as they were growing up."
The report also showed:
"50% say they visit to get help from a librarian. Asked how often they get help from library staff in such things as answering research questions, 31% of library patrons in the past 12 months say they frequently get help, 39% say they sometimes get help, 23% say they hardly ever get help, and 7% say they never get help."
Libraries (and librarians) are important to me for a personal reason. My grandmother, Judy Clarke, was a librarian and was one of the central figures in my childhood. She used to tell me that books, "Let you go anywhere." She was right. When I was a kid and going through a rough time, I would escape into a book.
The American Library Association's (ALA) talking points include, "Libraries are unique in that they offer lifelong learning – and welcome everyone from preschool age to well beyond retirement age." That is true, as well. The also offer a wide array of resources to anyone who enters, regardless of their income or anything else. They provide career counseling -- including workshops on resume writing and interview preparation and other classes on a variety of topics such as financial planning and information technology. They help connect job seekers with outside placement agencies. All of these FREE services are desperately needed today.
Some have questioned the value of libraries in the digital age but that not everyone in the United States has internet access at home. Given how essential it has become, having a place where people can use it for free is critical. The "digital divide" may be narrowing but having a place where people can go and use it AND receive help to do so is a wonderful thing. Talk about an instance where the government is doing something right.
The New York Times did a piece late last year on how libraries are filling the void left when traditional bookstores close. (You can read that here.) They found that as more and more people turn to libraries for the latest best sellers, they have changed their approach to look more like the stores they are replacing. I still love going to a bookstore and looking through the actual books -- though I read them on a iPad.
The paper also put up a discussion of the continued importance of libraries, it is here.
If you think we should continue to fund libraries, please check this out.