Why America’s Public Libraries Will Never Die

Daedalus Books and Music helped us build a respectable home library for our toddlers. It specialized in selling leftovers — unsold copies sold by the publisher at discounted prices.  We would spend a couple of hours on Saturday browsing the shelves for deeply discounted “good reads.”  I was sad. . . no . . . I was ticked the day our neighborhood branch closed seven years ago.  And when Daedalus closed its last standing branch last month, it was clear that the digital age had scored again.  Even the 4th richest county in America couldn’t keep my favorite bookstore open.

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Nowadays we go to the public library just about every week.  Ours looks and smells like an ordinary library.  Quiet? Check. Books? Check. Cheerful librarians that are way too eager to help? Check.  But the tiny library, always busy, appears to be enjoying celebrity status.  It is surviving in a space that bookstores have failed. Here’s why:

Libraries keep retail hours, too.

All of our county’s libraries are open from 10am to 9pm on weekdays and are also open on Saturday and Sunday.  We can usually get to the stacks whenever the mood strikes.  We could wait until the weekend; but we don’t have to.

People still read books.

There is a strong camp of people who haven’t signed on to the digital trend.  They enjoy the feel and smell of books. When they want to know something, they to turn to books just as naturally as others turn to Google. They collect autographed books and display them like trophies.  They don’t ever lend books to friends (not books they care to see again, anyway). Instead they usher their friends towards  (you guessed it) the library.

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Children will always judge.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is not advice followed by children.  Kids absolutely judge books by their covers, their art work, and their titles. The page count and the print size all figures into the selection process.  This is much easier to do in a library than on a website. It’s even easier to do after a passionate, highly energetic librarian has read it to them in a dramatic voice.

Libraries also have something for people who don’t read.

People who prefer to listen to books can borrow audio books or CDs in person or use an app such as Libby, Overdrive and Hoopla to borrow audio books, music, movies, and TV free with a library card.

Libraries have awesome adult programs.

Whereas bookstores are in the business of selling products, libraries are in the business of providing information.  Participation in library programming has been steadily increasing ,according to the Public Library Association’s 2017 Public Library Data Service Report .

Our county’s system has a “Do it Yourself” (DIY) education center to learn about anything ranging from repair and maintenance to adventure. The Center features a borrowing collection of small tools for home projects, such as bicycle repair kits, DIY classes and a “mess friendly” classroom and workspace for children, teens, and adults.  The library organizes free  book clubs, lectures, book signings, music lessons, foreign language classes, SAT prep classes — classroom style and online.

 

The children’s programs are even more awesome.

The library organizes children’s scavenger hunts, story hours, art classes, chemistry experiments, coding/STEM classes, homework clubs, sewing workshops, and more. Parents’ tax dollars allow children to explore their interests through the library’s programs without making a costly financial commitment.

Libraries are embracing technology.

A click will reserve and transfer books to your closest branch through inter-library loan. Avoid long lines with self-check out. Receive receipts and reminders by email.

Reserve books, sign up for activities and book meeting rooms through a dedicated account.  Use the library’s computers if you don’t have a device but need internet access.  Some libraries even offer automatic renewals.  No late fees. No questions asked.

Some libraries are destinations.

They have historical significance, amazing architecture or are just plain beautiful.  Make a point to tour New York City’s Schwarzman Library or the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. during your next visit.

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So what are you waiting on?  Go to the library. What you find will surprise you.