Several years ago, I wrote about how libraries have evolved since my childhood. For awhile, many people thought libraries were on the verge of extinction as Amazon dominated the book marketplace. But that may no longer be the case. Just as independent bookstores found ways to survive by offering products and services not offered by Amazon and national chains, the public library has extended its offerings beyond short-term book loans.
According to a recent article on Vox, the library’s main purpose is to help educate the community; Amazon’s purpose is to simply sell books (and a million other things). The library still remains relevant today because it serves the public’s demand for information and resources, especially to underserved populations, at no cost.
With a focus on education and lifelong learning, the neighborhood public library has expanded its services beyond book loans. They’ve become multi-purpose destinations. And libraries are being re-designed to accommodate these expanded offerings.
If you haven’t visited a library lately, you may be surprised to find what’s available there. A Pew Internet survey from 2014 found that while many people think libraries continue to serve a useful purpose in their communities, a significant percentage did not realize the scope and depth of the services offered at libraries. For example, visitors can get income tax advice or job assistance. They can learn a new language, get literacy tutoring, participate in film discussions or research their family history.
Libraries house historic and genealogy records, map collections and other archival documents. For example, a library in Birmingham, Alabama, has preserved records and documents related to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, according the Project for Public Spaces.
Public libraries also have community rooms, ideal for having discussions and debates about zoning changes and new proposed developments, all with the intent to help residents understand their community better.
Today’s libraries are trying to reach younger generations of readers by offering more programs aimed at teens and children. Some offer 3D printing, community access TV and radio stations, language labs and recording studio so they can record their own stories in their own words. Others encourage visitors to relax and linger over their reading materials by providing private reading nooks, creative spaces and even a fireplace.
These types of amenities aim to reach younger adults in their 20s and 30s, who have been largely absent in recent years but are the key to the library’s future viability.
As long as people have the desire to explore the world at large and engage in lifelong learning, and as long as there are family-friendly programs for people of all ages, the public library will continue to serve as a vital resource in our communities.