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What good are libraries?

 

By Kathy Pillatzki
Assistant Director
Henry County Library System

  I often encounter two general schools of thought about what public libraries do: about half the non-library users I talk to ask why libraries have computers. They think we should stick to just checking out books. The other half assume that with computers so readily available, nobody reads books anymore.

  Fortunately, there’s a third and better-informed opinion, common among actual library users: libraries do it all. I know that sounds like a sweeping generalization, but you don’t have to take my word for it. The independent Pew Research Center recently conducted a survey of Americans’ attitudes and opinions about public libraries. Among the findings:

• 73% of those who visited public libraries during the study period did so to browse and borrow print books.

• Among those who accessed the Internet at a public library, 66% did research for school or work. 46% used a research database, 41% visited websites about government services, 36% looked for jobs or applied for jobs online, and 16% took an online class or completed an online certification program.

• 50% of library visitors needed assistance from a trained librarian.

  Obviously, there’s a lot of overlap about why people visit libraries. It’s not uncommon to see a library guest spend a half hour or so on a computer, then browse the shelves and check out a stack of books. Libraries serve every subset of our population, regardless of age, income, or other socioeconomic factors.

  As Kevin O’Kelly wrote in a Huffington Post blog, “Libraries are a part of our ever-shrinking social safety net. The library is the place where people who can't afford a home computer and Internet connection can apply for jobs (and more jobs require online applications than you would think: retail clerk, hotel maid, custodian...). It’s the place where some of the estimated 60 million Americans who don’t know how to use a computer at all can learn to click a mouse and create an email account…In a library, what services or help you get don’t depend on how much money you can spend. It's a place where if you need help all you have to do is ask.”

  On the other hand, there are plenty of people who use library resources who could easily afford to buy books and home computers. Why do they use libraries? People who are financially secure usually got that way by being good money managers. They recognize that libraries are one of the absolute best values for their tax dollars. For them, using library resources isn’t a matter of need; it’s simply a smart financial choice.

  Just for fun, visit the website of Georgia Public Library Service at www.georgialibraries.org. Click on “Resources for the Public” then click on the Value of Public Libraries Calculator that appears on the right side of the page. Enter the number of books you check out per month, programs you attend, hours you use library computers and more, then let the calculator do the math. You may be surprised by the dollar value of your library services. So, how do you use your library? What is it worth to you?

 

 

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