My small town library has actually become more popular over recent years. The town publicizes events through social media to get more residents involved. They have concerts, movie nights, readings, reading clubs, extended hours, and offer new technologies, but the same can’t be said for all libraries. Unfortunately, some public libraries have closed their doors for good. Ten years ago libraries were quite popular, because people wanted to read books and get internet access that wasn’t yet widely accessible in the home.
Today, more than 75% of Americans have internet access and personal devices for reading eBooks, conducting research, and playing games. When the internet was first becoming popular, libraries offered free access and public use of their computers. This kept libraries busy and traffic through them was increasing. When eBooks came out, they introduced the new concept of reading on a tablet or computer. The idea took some getting used to, so people continued to check books out at their local libraries. Now that e-readers and eBooks are widely popular, available, and affordable, most people don’t have a need to go to the library. Rather than driving all the way to your local library and hoping that the new book you want is available, people now just rent or buy e-books to read at their leisure from where ever they are.
For libraries to remain operational they need to find new ways to attract visitors. If books and internet access aren’t attracting them anymore, library personal have to come up with new creative ideas. Many libraries in my area are drawing people though their promotions, events, new online catalogs, and classes or seminars on how to use new technologies. At larger public libraries such as those in cities like NY, Boston, or LA it is hard to provide citizens with new offerings because of budgetary restraints and space issues. Many of these larger libraries have traditionally used all of their space to house books. Now that people are looking for reading space and reading devices, open library space has become more important, but is often difficult to provide. The NY Public library found that it is almost impossible to move their books elsewhere, because the bookshelves are Snead Stacks, built to be load bearing and hold up the building. The library has had to explore other ways to expand open space and provide technology after this revelation.
Public libraries have been making a case for increasing funding to improve the overall buildings, renovate interiors, expand resource offerings, and grow staffing. Since they are not used by all residents, it’s not surprising that taxpayers are resisting. Libraries must position their value in the midst of low cost print and eBooks that residents can buy or rent online; widespread accessibility of the internet; cafes that offer technology and free Wi-Fi, and Americans’ busy schedules. Libraries need to find ways to reduce their network expenses while also improving their users’ experience with new tools like ExtremeAnalytics and new approaches like ExtremeCloud cloud-managed networking, in order to have more budget for new technologies, print resources, and to improve their buildings.
Books are not the only way to drive attention to libraries. Making the library an attractive meeting place for social events and encouraging students to come in and check out new programs will help to drive interest in libraries. Holding a movie night or event that a lot of people will come to not only increases interest, but also provides a prime opportunity for library officials to promote events such as book clubs, new library programs, technology class offerings, and other activities. The definition of the library is evolving, but as long as they grow with the definition I think they still have a few more books left in them to write.
Primary and secondary school libraries and college libraries are also undergoing similar transformations. See my related blogs on those: Libraries or Media Centers? The K-12 Trend that’s Sweeping the Nation and Today’s University Library: Where are all the books?