Public libraries fight to stay relevant in digital age
Already facing tight budgets, public libraries are also contending with a cultural shift from traditional stacks of books to digital devices. But far from fighting the digital revolution, libraries are joining it.
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Access to digital resources has been the fastest-growing area of use for the District of Columbia Public Library system, says Ginnie Cooper, its chief librarian. Both the Washington and New York City public-library systems face 40 percent cuts in the coming fiscal year.Skip to next paragraph
According to a recent ALA report issued by Mr. Inouye's office, it is vital that libraries adapt to the shift in how patrons seek resources.
"The purely physical library is no longer strategically realistic," the report reads, adding that while most public libraries are maintaining their physical branches, they are increasingly being drawn toward the "virtual endpoint."
In addition to making technological strides, librarians are stressing the many free resources available to patrons. With more adults out of work and money tight, the library is a place where people can conduct employment search efforts and even continue with leisurely endeavors.
Indeed, more Americans have been turning to libraries for job-search and financial-literacy assistance, says Ann Thornton, acting Andrew W. Mellon director of the New York Public Libraries. Officials in that system stepped up both of those services with the onset of difficult economic times.
"Ironically, just at the time when our users need us more, budgetary constraints and the uncertainty of city funding for the library make keeping up with demand difficult," Ms. Thornton says.
Of course, local libraries also hold children's programs, community meetings, classes, and events.
For example, while patrons of the South Brunswick Public Library in New Jersey can download its holdings from just about any location with an Internet connection, there is still a steady flow of visitors to the facility for community programming and meetings, says Mary Donne, head of information services at the library.
For Ms. Cooper, going to the library is a community occasion. "I think that coming together of the community ... that is part of what the library's role is, and I think that is what brings people to us."
As for Mr. Lenze and the seven other staffers at the Garden City library, a November ballot question could allow voters to reopen the library.
For now, the 7,000-plus registered patrons of the Garden City institution can opt to pay nonresident memberships at libraries elsewhere. According to the Garden City library's website, the closest towns charge between $45 and $75 for annual cards for individuals and $100 for households.
"They're finding now what those costs [of membership] are, and it greatly exceeds what we were asking them [in tax dollars] to keep the library open," says Lenze.