There are two prevailing views on public libraries in the 21st century; it is my hope that they are not completely incompatible. This is the first of three posts in which I possibly bore you but hopefully enlighten you as to what’s changing about libraries.
1 – The public library is an exciting, vibrant, cutting-edge public service that is on the forefront of community cultural offerings. This view is held by the newest generation of librarians coming out of library school. Instead of being headed up by polite, gray-haired ladies (a stereotype, I know, but still widely prevalent), the public library is now being run by people in their 20s and 30s who grew up with Nintendo, Nirvana and Ned Flanders. These librarians are interested in internet technology, new media and, to the anger of many, pop culture. This means internet access, Wi-Fi, DVDs, video games, the latest Billboard and music blog hit performers–in short, the public library has become a place where people go for entertainment as well as for research. And this is actually working to bring people in. The Wisconsin DPI recently released a study that shows that for every $1 of taxpayer money spent on library services, $4 worth of services are obtained–the idea that if 12 people each pay a dollar for a $12 DVD, that disc will circulate to at least 48 different people. That’s a pretty good return on our investment! Consequently, public libraries are being used more than ever–almost 30% more than they were 5 years ago. Our own library has seen a freakishly huge 30% increase in one year alone! But is all of this usage at the sacrifice of quality services? Is it really our job to supply people with a copy of “40 Year Old Virgin” or “Saw III?”
Comment below and watch for tomorrow’s post about the second view of public libraries.