I am a reader and I love books. I have been reading books for as long as I can remember and I have been a patron of my city library practically all my life, in every city I have ever lived in.
My earliest memory of going to the library to check out books is one of myself at about age 6, walking several blocks to the public library on Belmont Avenue. I remember choosing the books I would read and hugging them to my chest all the way home in anticipation of the stories I would enjoy.
When I had my own children, a trip to the library was an exciting outing–each of us with our own library cards–to choose the next adventure we were to read. Both my girls are readers too.
Over the last 45 years I have continued to borrow books from the library. But as technology has changed my borrowing habits have changed as well. Now that I have an e reader on my phone and as a separate tablet–all I have to do is download the app, borrow the book and enjoy it. I never even have to leave the comfort of my home.
When I have gone to the library for an actual book these days, I have found that it is very empty and understaffed–with staff that is not as knowledgeable as they once were. Also, I found something disturbing. A library patron, who seemed to be homeless, was bathing herself in the library restroom.
That in itself is a sad situation. For the lady and for others who witnessed it. I am not saying she was unwelcome to use the facilities at the library–but clearly she was not there to check out a book.
So I began thinking of how times have changed and how the original reason for the city or state to provide libraries has now changed as well.
The public library was established to provide all citizens the right to borrow books to read and have a place of sanctuary in which to read them, regardless of income, race, religion or creed as a public service.
Over time the public service expanded to include computers, job search and job training classes, children’s reading sessions and a myriad of other programs for the public good.
And–of course–it is all free to the public. But–of course,– it isn’t free. The public library is funded from a portion of homeowner’s property taxes–so it is not a free service at all. We are paying for it.
More and more people are not using the library to check out books and many buildings are lonely. Each city, is different, but the libraries have changed none the less.
Librarians are not paid a very high wage and in fact, I found after a bit of research that most libraries now have very few full time positions–opting for part time positions in which they do not have to provide benefits for the librarians–who have to have a bachelor’s degree to even be considered for the job.
The hours of the library have also been cut. The library closest to me now is even closed on Sundays when it would actually be the most convenient for me to browse and pick books up.
The libraries in out country seem to be dying.
It is this avid reader’s opinion that perhaps we should reinvent the library. We should consolidate multiple libraries that exist in the same area to save the money on the upkeep of the buildings and reinvest that money to provide more books in electronic format that can be managed by less people but provide more availability to the actual patrons that read the books (electronic though they may be.)
Certain libraries can be maintained as the Main Library– in cities in which people can still visit and check out a physical book if they choose–still providing that service.
While it is sad that libraries are dying, what is important is that people–especially children–are still being encouraged to read. The skill that is needed the most by an informed nation is the ability to read and comprehend–not the physical building in which to house the multitude of books that are being left on the shelf.
I still enjoy searching for authors and books that I might enjoy. I still am eager with anticipation at the start of a new book. The love of reading has never left me even though the technology has changed. Reinventing the library can keep the flow of the written word alive for many generations to come.
What say you? Should we reinvent the libraries–for the public good–so that they will still provide a service and be of use? Or should we just let them fade away and lose the treasure of being able to have thousands of books (electronic books) at our fingertips?