There is a conversation I often have whenever I meet someone new and it goes something like this:
Friend: So what do you do?
Me: I’m a librarian.
Friend: Oh, that’s great! I love libraries, (pause) but aren’t libraries fading away now that we have computers and Google and eBooks?
Me: (gearing up to explain the relevance of public libraries in this age of technology):
People often have this nostalgic view of libraries as quiet, lovely spaces to read and learn. I remember the library as a treasure chest of children’s books because I didn’t have lots of books in my home, or later as a source of great recreational reading materials. In college, I used it for research. It was a source of books and information. I think of the library as a quiet and safe place in every community I’ve ever lived. So many library buildings have historical significance and stand as a reminder of the past. That nostalgic view is still part of the library of today. But we are so much more.
Today’s library offers a hybrid space of yesterday’s primarily print world and tomorrow’s primarily digital world. There is still a digital divide in this country, an uneven distribution of knowledge, especially in rural areas. Access to knowledge is important for a democratic society. We provide a way for those who do not have a computer or internet service at home to access that world of information. For those who carry mobile devices and for all those students with iPads, free wireless is here for them. We even lend Wi-Fi hotspots.
We provide both physical and digital materials: Our library still provides more than 50,000 books, movies, music, games and educational materials. We also have more than 12,000 eBooks and eAudiobooks ready for free downloads through our Overdrive subscription service. And thousands more free eBooks, eAudio, movies and music through our Hoopla service.
Our 39 public computers are equipped with current software and we provide friendly librarians to help people learn how to use those resources. So much of what the librarians do now is related to helping people use technology. Most libraries today provide technology reference services. Our librarians can answer most basic tech questions and will search for answers to harder ones. Call your local library to set up an appointment.
Children use the AWE Stations that are loaded with educational games. We teach technology classes at the library and offer free online classes through Lynda.com. These classes are offered to help people become more comfortable with computers and provide training for today’s marketplace and online social spaces. Check library websites for current classes.
Our website gives patrons a way to order books and other materials from home. It provides a way to access historical local newspapers, oral histories of Charlevoix elders and links to community information. For the genealogist, there’s Ancestry.com. For the student, there are databases filled with current, cutting-edge information.
Interested in 3-D printing? Stop in the main lobby to see them in action, or take a class to learn how to create your own 3-D prints. And think about using our quick charging station for your mobile devices.
We live in a time of rapid and transformative changes in the world of publishing, information technologies and learning. We are always looking for ways to engage and create meaningful and lasting experiences for library users and those who don’t traditionally use libraries. Our challenge is to determine what our patrons want and need right now, and then determine how we can provide services to support them.
We are still a quiet, lovely space to read and learn, but our reach goes beyond the physical book. Libraries are more relevant and used more than ever before. In the past, it was all about the books; now it’s about information and connections.
So what do I say to the people that think we are fading away?
“No worries, libraries are doing OK.”
Call or visit your library’s website for a full list of their tech services.