June 8, 2014

Libraries still relevant

I love libraries; they play an important role in a community. I’m a regular patron of the Plattsburgh Public Library and a proud owner of a Nancy Pearl librarian action figure, whose superpower is the amazing ability to make people “shush.”

The public library is uniquely American in its origin. Europe had subscription libraries for about 100 years before the forward-thinking souls of Peterborough, N.H., developed the concept of the “free public library.” Any Peterborough resident had the right to share in the community’s “stored knowledge.” The only requirement was to return the book or document “on time and in good condition” so that others might have access to it.

Today, libraries continue to provide free and open access to ideas and information.

So, when my friend, Dawn Recore, who works for the Clinton Essex Franklin Library, emailed me a copy of the Pew Research Center study How Americans View Libraries in their Communities, I was eager to read it.

The report is part of a larger research effort by Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, which is “exploring the role libraries play in people’s lives and their communities.” While they don’t say it outright, Pew may have been responding to people who wonder, in the Internet age of e-books and online content, if libraries matter anymore.

When Andrew Carnegie began funding public libraries, they were physical spaces that served as repositories for books and for providing access to learning for people who would otherwise have limited opportunities for education or self-improvement.

Their purpose focused on education and learning.

Their reputation was as boring places where a Nancy Pearl disciple was always telling you to “shush.”

The world in which libraries operate is changing rapidly and it’s the libraries that respond to those changes are the ones that will remain relevant. The good news is that libraries are adaptive and have always responded and evolved in response to community needs.

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