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Random Friday Question: Do We Need Libraries Anymore?

With more than 25,000 librarians pouring into town for the convention of the American Library Association, now is the time to ask a not-so-random Random Friday Question: In a world in which every home computer provides access to more information than used to exist in your friendly neighborhood library, exactly what is the function of a library now?

Librarians are asking themselves this question in all kinds of ways. During their six days in Washington, librarians will hold sessions to discuss "Can Blogs Be Trusted?" "Lifting the Gag: Patron Privacy and the Patriot Act," "Library Outreach and Programming on a Shoestring Budget," "Gaming, Information Literacy and the College Student," and of course, "Transforming Your Library."

But as cities such as Washington debate whether to build a new downtown central library or devote resources to sprucing up neighborhood branches, and as those branches try to decide whether to emphasize access to computers or providing a rich selection of classic literature and current bestsellers, the big question remains, what is a library at a time when the printed word seems to be receding in importance, Starbucks and the big chain bookstores have to a large extent supplanted the role of the public library as a place to read, think, browse, and be with others in your community?

The librarians will go to the Hill to lobby congressfolk about the importance of libraries, and to impress upon lawmakers that libraries are finding ways to be as relevant and essential as ever: They're using video game technology to connect to students, they're stepping in to fill gaps created as school systems have dramatically cut back on school libraries, they're creating welcoming places for at-risk kids who might never think to go to a fussy, old-fashioned library, and they're still fulfilling some of the most socially important roles that libraries have taken on for many decades, including teaching English to recent immigrants.

But let's be real: Most schoolkids are more eager to go to Borders or B&N than to visit local libraries that can seem musty and decrepit. Many adults now do research at home or work that they once did at the library. Too many big city libraries have allowed themselves to be virtually taken over by the homeless, the mentally disturbed and others whose presence makes many other people feel threatened, nervous or simply not wanted. And budget cuts have left too many libraries with collections that are thin, old and irrelevant.

Libraries are starting to fight back, updating their look, relaxing age-old taboos to allow food and drinks into reading areas, and trying to learn lessons about architecture and presentation from the folks at Starbucks and Barnes & Noble. (The Washington library system, by general agreement one of the worst in the nation, has been studying these matters and has all manner of grand plans to remake itself under new director Ginnie Cooper, though it's not yet clear to what extent the new city administration will make this a priority.)

In the end, however the financial and brick and mortar questions are resolved, the future of libraries will be as much a matter of pace as of physical appeal. The Internet revolution represents a ratcheting up in the pace of American life, a quickening of everything from work productivity to leisure time choices. The idea of settling into a comfy chair for a long read will of course survive for some people, but will seem archaic to others. Libraries will have to react both as a conservator of the greatest human traditions, pointing the way for an electronically-minded generation to see what's different and unique about books, and as a leader in finding ways to turn essentially solitary online existences into activities that involve direct human contact. That's a powerful role that libraries played in the socialization and Americanization of past generations of immigrants, and it's a role that libraries must embrace in new ways.

Have you seen your use of libraries drop off since the computer became standard equipment at home and at work, and what would you want from libraries in the future?

By Marc Fisher |  June 22, 2007; 7:32 AM ET
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Comments

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I don't hang out at the library, but go there 2-3x per week to pick up books. I love the online reservation system. I can place the books I want on hold, the library emails me when they are ready. I have never used their internet service or done any research there, I can do that at home, but the reason libraries were started in the first place was to share books, they still do that, they are still relelvant. Although I like to walk around Barnes and Noble, I rarely buy anything. I want to read a book first to see if it is one I want to buy.

Posted by: bari | June 22, 2007 7:59 AM

Libraries are still excellent places to borrow books and music for free -- not only good as a "try-before-you-buy" but also as a system of free access; if I bought all the books I borrowed from the library, I'd likely be several tens of thousands of dollars in debt. They're a godsend for people who like to read & I know that before the internet went into my new place I used them for 'net access (carefully, since the comps are public).

Posted by: Anonymous | June 22, 2007 8:07 AM

The Internet is a fantastic tool, but by no means comprehensive enough as a research base. I would hate to see libraries disappear. They hold a wealth of information that is not currently on the internet, and in terms of sheer volume (world wide), may never be complete.
Whether for my thesis, research on my family tree, the history of the town and area I am living in, or even the history of the house I am living in; the library is my chosen source of information.
I believe research should be a balance of information from a variety of sources; including the Internet and libraries. However, one must be able to distinguish factual information and accuracy of that information....
I hope Libraries continue to provide the wonderful services to the public they have; it would be a tragedy to reach a point where future generations look up the term 'library' on the internet to find out what it was....

Posted by: Helen | June 22, 2007 8:21 AM

Not all households have a computer. Many people cannot afford computers and/or they don't want to be bothered by the technical parts of maintaining a computer. If some people want to hole up in their house and stare at a computer screen 24/7, then good for them, but others, like myself, would rather mingle among other book enthusiasts in libraries. It's a waste of money to go buy books and only read them once or twice. It's important for small children to go to libraries and encounter many various types of books to read and enjoy. They learn to share by checking out books and returning them for others to read and enjoy. Libraries are not being used enough. They are part of a community.

Posted by: Bookworm | June 22, 2007 8:37 AM

Buying your kids books and cocoa from Barnes and Nobles is a luxury that many families do not have. A library allows book and internet access to childrem and adults that otherwise would be left out. As a physician who was the first person in my family to go to college, I read 200 books a summer in the library summer reading program. My family could not afford books. My children go to the library once a week now. I beleive in the power of libraries to equalize higher education access to everyone.

Posted by: NC Mom | June 22, 2007 8:39 AM

Wow, do we need libraries now more than ever! I say that as a parent of a 6-year old who truly loves to go to the library--she takes her time looking over all the book titles, sits and reads at a "research desk" and, in general, just loves the atmosphere of being surrounded by books and learning of all kinds. She attends one of Fairfax County's best elementary schools, yet I was shocked to learn the school gave 4th-6th graders the summer task of reading...ONE BOOK. Since my daughter was 4 years old, she's taken part in the FFX Co. Summer Readers program, reading (or being read the first year) 15 books during the summer. Now, at 6 she is reading years ahead of her peers and writing her own "narratives" (complete with good spelling, I might add). I recommended to her teachers and school principal that they mandate each student to take part in the reading program. Come on, 16 books over 2 1/2 months? They are even free, and there's no lure of coffee drinks as there is at Borders or B&N.

I also say we need libraries as someone who works with a great many younger people who cannot spell, have a minimal grasp of complex sentences and punctuation, and in general seem not to know much about great books or art, or be interested in much beyond last night's Wii game. I fear a great deal of the close-mindedness we see creeping into American culture is because we as a nation do not emphasize the importance of reading about people, places, history and practices beyond our shores.

I spent hundreds of hours at the library doing research during my undergraduate and graduate school years (yes, some of the latter came during the age of Internet research), but I have spent many thousands more just dawdling among the stacks and finding hidden treasures at my local library.

Posted by: RestonVAMom | June 22, 2007 8:45 AM

While in college, I spent many, many hours in the school library, mostly to get away and focus. I grew to love the small of books and the quiet way that footsteps tolled through the aisles of paper.

After graduating two years ago, I haven't stepped foot in a library, but that is about to change. On Monday in fact, I signed up online for a library card. In another week, I will be the proud owner of a library card, and I can't wait. I love books and I miss reading; my husband is probably sick of hearing me whine "I want to read but we have nothing to read!" almost every night.

I hope libraries don't go away. They have a purpose, but most people don't see their value.

Posted by: arlington | June 22, 2007 8:46 AM

Libraries are still where you get books for free. Lots of books. Books you can go and look at before you invest time in reading them.

Books you didn't suspect existed. Nice old books with soft paper, printed in typefaces that predate computerized typesetting.

Not only that, libraries are where you can go for the afternoon to read when you have no AC.

My aging neighbor spends part of every day at the library, just so she can see people.

Every branch has a different atmosphere and flavor, too. I visit different ones and can figure out who the library system thinks lives in the neighborhood just by checking out the new book shelves.

Oh well, maybe my grandchildren will spend all their time in Second Life instead of going out. Too bad!

Posted by: Jessica | June 22, 2007 8:51 AM

Are you insane? Yes, there's data on the internet, but how much of it can you trust? You can't beat a library!

Posted by: G | June 22, 2007 8:55 AM

Have you been to a library recently? Libraries are packed everyday. I started going to the library again when I moved to LA several years ago. I'd pick up a book and head to the beach. It became a a valuble tool for using the computer, reading the newspaper and picking up new books as well as providing an opportunity to reread books I had read years before. When I moved back to this area I continued to do the same thing and visit the Montgomery County Library 2-3 times per week. It is always busy, full of children and adults and I see very few homeless people hanging around in Momntgomery County or in LA. By the way the library in LA was a brand new building with many computers that were always in use, bright, airy, wireless access, CD's, DVD's, plenty of electrical outlets for computer users and just a great place to be. The same is true here in Montghomery County as well.

Posted by: Max Black | June 22, 2007 9:04 AM

As more and more information becomes available via the Internet, the function of the librarian as a skilled gateway to that information becomes more critical. Yes, you can get a lot of data from the Internet, but how much of it is reliable? Librarians can be vital guideposts in helping to sort out good data from bad and in guiding efficient and targeted data searches (potentially saving time, money, and headaches). You seem to focus primarily on the role of public libraries, but there's much more to librarianship than that- librarians can be corporate, legal, government, research, or statistical specialists, and a critical resource across all strata of life and business.

Posted by: Maura | June 22, 2007 9:07 AM

Ever go into the bathroom with a computer?

Posted by: Steve | June 22, 2007 9:07 AM

Steve, laptop.

Posted by: Life will find a way | June 22, 2007 9:09 AM

My first thought would be close the libraries and use the freed $$ to make WIFI universal without restrictions to use. However having grown in the 60's in public housing (projects) being able to spend all day on Saturday in the calm of the library is one of my fondest memories. I essentially read everything. KEEP them open as they are still a refuge to many.

Posted by: MNWCSULT | June 22, 2007 9:10 AM

People with LOTS of money don't have to use the library. They can subscribe to all sorts of electronic services via the internet. Do you really want to read War and Peace electronically??? You can take a borrowed library book just about anywhere and not worry about your "connection." Yes, libraries can lighten up a little in their decor but the taxpayers have to be willing to allow their money to be spent for this.
Barnes & Noble are out to make a profit -- libraries aren't!!!

Posted by: Linda | June 22, 2007 9:15 AM

The on-line catalogs are great. You can see if the book you want is there before you go.

If you have something you need to know about, recently for me that was a health problem, the library is the place to go.

You have all kinds of books with indexes right there. You can sit down, review and skim, and then decide what to check out, or as my kids would say, "rent". You can xerox a few pages, you can go look around some more. It beats online access because the entire book is there. Plus you can look online.

I think now more than ever libraries are relevant. I live in MoCo and the libraries are one thing that I'm really pleased with.

Posted by: RoseG | June 22, 2007 9:18 AM

I never spent a lot of time just hanging out in libraries (except in college and grad school) - I'd much rather read my books curled up at home in a comfy arm chair. However, I go to the MoCo libraries several times a month to pick up and return books - if I was paying $8-30 for every book that I read, I'd be much less likely to stretch and try new things (I'd also probably read less, because my book bill would be close to $1000 per year!).

Posted by: silver spring | June 22, 2007 9:19 AM

DC needs its libaries now more than ever. Its public library system does suck compared to almost anywhere else I've lived (and that's been a lot of places). But for the 5 years I lived in the city, both on the Hill and up in Petworth, I used my local branches. They were very busy places. I particularly remember lots of kids after school using the computers and doing homework, especially at the Juanita Thornton branch on Georgia Ave. They provide a safe, quiet haven for kids, some of whom may not have any other such place in their lives. They are a treasure trove of free information and reference for people who don't have the luxury of a computer or hi-speed internet access. The decline of our libraries is an acute symptom our growing isolation from our communities and each other, even as technology links us more closely and provides us more information than ever before. Save the libraries!

Posted by: MikeyA | June 22, 2007 9:21 AM

I love going to the library with my son, age 3. And he loves it too. We browse through books, read at tables, and check a few books out. I have the luxury of being able to afford to go to Barnes and Noble and buying books with him, but why? The books at the library are free, and it's a great thing to do with kids. Sure, we go to Barnes and Noble too. But it's nice to go somewhere and not pay $20+. When you take a kid to B&N, they are going to want to buy a book, even if their bookshelves are full. So going to the library is a great alternative.

As an adult, I use the library as well. I love science fiction, and sometimes the books I want to read are out of print. And I rarely read newly released books, so I save money. And there is something fun about just browsing the fiction section and not paying for it.

I think libraries should perhaps do more to get families to keep coming, because they are probably one of the few groups left that really enjoy the library. So perhaps make the children's section separate, and perhaps enclosed, so it can be a little more rowdy without disturbing other patrons. They should also have a starbucks or some equivalent.

Posted by: Cliff | June 22, 2007 9:23 AM

How about this....don't bother with the new downtown central library, donate the Washingtonia Division to the Historical Society of Washington with dedicated city funding (housed at the Carnegie Library) and use the monies saved to enhance the neighborhood branches.

The Tenley Library discussion (public-private partnership along with Janney Elementrary School) should be focused on expanding community space for ANCs and neighborhood organizations to host meetings, childrens programs are vital, etc.

Posted by: Chevy Chase | June 22, 2007 9:25 AM

Libraries are, and will always be, relevant and important. There is no way to duplicate online the ability to just browse the stacks and find a book that just 'feels' interesting because of how it caught your eye. Or to see the book next to the one you selected, the one that got pushed back just a little, and now it's just what your looking for. The web is great if you know what you want; if not, the library is still the place to go.

It's also an economic issue. Publicly funded libraries may be the last refuge for the poor kid (or adult) to expand his or her horizons.

Posted by: dlk11756 | June 22, 2007 9:27 AM

Maura...very well said.

I am a librarian, but I do not work in a public library. With the number of times a day I teach someone how to find the information they need (often on the almost-universally accessible, but poorly understood Internet), I am astounded that people could really think libraries are outdated. You can access it, but do you really know how to use it? Most people, in my experience, don't.

Moreover, much of my library's collection is NOT available digitally. This is material for in-depth research, historic primary source material, genealogy material (genealogy is now the most popular hobby in the US, I believe?) and so on...not exactly collections that are sitting around unused.

On the flip side of the library world, I do use my local public library frequently. I for one am not going to plunk down $25 for a B-N title without knowing whether or not I'll like it.

Posted by: librarylady | June 22, 2007 9:27 AM

I never heard even once that "most" schoolkids prefer to go to Borders or B&N instead of libraries. Libraries allow my kids and their friends to go pick out 12-20 books for the week (they're young and can read picture books in 5 minutes). If we go to book stores they know they get one or two books. YES they would prefer to get books they can keep at home, but we have at most 200 kids books at home and the library has around 4000. There is no way we have the money or space for the amount of material a library contains.

I am the first to say that what someone once called "fake books" aren't required in the internet era. The Whole Earth Catalog, the books of old jokes, coloring books, You might be a golfer if..., etc. Those crappy books are supplanted by blogs and websites, but real novels most certainly are not. Kids books with 14 inch color paintings are not.

And lastly, why the interest in making a library a space for people to hang out? Do you hang out and sip coffee in a grocery store, the dry cleaners or the DMV? NO! Stop trying to incorrectly shoe-horn coffee shop culture into a governmental entity.

I'm no conservative, but libraries should slim down and provide the BEST service doing what they do best.

Recently a friend of mine took a major financial hit and had his high speed internet ($50 per month) disconnected and he couldn't even buy a modem- he was THAT in debt. He's technologically savvy, he owns a desktop computer, and in order to connect to the internet he had to go to the library for a few months before he could pay his overdue bill. You can't bring a desktop machine to starbucks and use their wifi!

Simply put, libraries should be ready for the in-and-out patron. No one should pay tax dollars to create a coffee shop culture when a patron can take a library book home or to a coffee shop. they should spend their budget on information architecture and infrastructure.

But as far as students preferring to buy books over going to a library- your sample is too small to even print it in the newspaper without derision. I never met those kids and for you to think they represent the world is bizarre in the extreme Marc. bizarre.

Posted by: DCer | June 22, 2007 9:29 AM

As the parent of a 7 year old new-but-enthusiastic reader, I say we most CERTAINLY need libraries. My son loves to go to the library and pick out as many books as he wants, on many different subjects, without me putting limits on him because of cost. He goes through 10-12 books a week (easy reader, Jr Fiction, etc), and it is just plain impractical to suggest that we go to BN and buy him those books, when he flies through them. It gives him a sense of freedom and is helping develop his sense of "taste" in books. He has his own card and is responsible for getting the books back on time. We love the FFX library system, and use it weekly. Otherwise, where would we get books for him? Borders - at $5-10 a pop??? That's just plain crazy.

Posted by: Elizabeth | June 22, 2007 9:41 AM

Our cities need libraries, but not as the day centers for the homeless mentally they have become by default. When we provide more appropriate treatment for that population, regular readers will return. Readers will find that librarians, trained in systematic search, are crucial in dealing with the glut of digital data, and can help information become knowledge. Libraries are still the best gateways to literature and learning, but we force the homeless to sleep in their doorways and then blame the libraries.

Posted by: Mike Licht | June 22, 2007 9:43 AM

I can afford a computer and do use it. That said, I love libraries!

I love being able to go to the new book shelves to see what's out. I can pick up every book on the shelf and browse it in a fraction of the time it would take me to do it online. And when I find ones I want, they're right there in my hand, ready to be checked out.

I love having free access to research databases through the library; many of them are prohibitively expensive for an individual.

I also love being able to pick up a book to look at it. The computer can point me to the right place in the library, but I can pick up the book to determine if it's what I want or need. And that is so much faster than the computer! I can pick up a book. read the cover blurb, and put it back on the shelf much faster than most web pages load (yes, I have broadband).

I've also noticed that most searches, regardless of whose search engine, only get me to the general area of interest. I can spend 10 minutes at the library to get exactly what I want, versus 2-3 hours on the internet getting close.

I also have a book problem. Fortunately for the foundation of my home, I only buy books I intend to read multiple times. If I think I'll only read it once, I get it from the library.

Books are more portable than laptops. Books don't need batteries. Books can still be read after a few hours of use without being recharged. And books can be used on the plane even when "all electronic devices" have been disabled. Books weigh less than a laptop. Books can be packed in your checked luggage, and still make it to your destination.

What's not to like??

Posted by: NoVA | June 22, 2007 9:47 AM

I loved the library as a kid but it has no bearing on my life today. I buy 3-5 books a month on average and constantly swap good reads with my friends. A daily newspaper and a few magazine subscriptions round out the total.

As a concept, the traditional Carnegie-inspired public library markets itself as an incredible expression of civic virtue, with untold promise for societal integration and upward social mobility. In reality however, public libraries, like NPR and PBS, mostly subsidize the lifestyles of the upper middle class and wealthy families who need them least.

I would be much more supportive of libraries if I thought they did any meaningful outreach to the children who would not otherwise have access to these opportunities.

Posted by: athea | June 22, 2007 9:48 AM

Some years ago I found myself in a small unfamiliar town in Oklahoma for 10 days with a sudden desperate need to dig up some of John Keats' poetry. I went to a gift shop I'd seen in passing and asked the young woman working there if any of the books there had poetry by Keats. Her response: "I don't know, I don't read" ("don't" read, not "can't" read). After recovering from the momentary shock, I asked to see the local phone book, and checked under libraries. I should have done that first. Not only did they have a lovely little library, but they had 3 volumes of Keats to choose from, and they allowed me to check one out to take back to my motel room. That library saved my sanity on that trip. Maybe that is somehow the deepest function of libraries, to maintain mental health and sanity in society...

Posted by: JoAnn | June 22, 2007 9:49 AM

Libraries provide access to information to everybody. High speed internet access is not available to everybody becuase of their location or financial ability. And quite a lot of the internet sites require a membership to access all of the content. A little information is provided for free to hook you in and you have to join to get access to the rest.

Libraries have free access to reading materials in all forms, music and video that would otherwise not be available to some of the public. Not to mention the audio books that can be checked out - great for commuting by the way, as long as you pay attention to your driving.

So yes, libraries are an essential service and should be maintained.

Like they say, knowledge is power, and libraries are still the best place to acquire knowledge. All you need is the desire to improve yourself.

Posted by: SoMD | June 22, 2007 9:50 AM

For the best of two worlds, you can't beat the Prince William County Library system. They have modern, well stocked libraries scattered around the county along with a series of neighborhood mini-libraries (about 1000 square feet in size).
In addition they have an impressive, and growing, online capability.
With these three elements, a patron can order a book from the system, either online or at his mini-library, and pick it up, then return it to any convenient site. The library system then ensures that a volume gets back to its point of origin.
Online, there currently is a pretty good set of links to popular materials (PC Magazines and lots of how-to books) and a large quantity of reading materials organized by school age groups. Maybe the city should use this model to get the best bang for the buck

Posted by: JOHND | June 22, 2007 9:51 AM

There's a wealth of information not available on the internet that only (some)libraries or deep-pocketed corporations have access to: paid subscriptions (Lexis is an example). You probably aren't ever going to have that in your home, yet it's essential to certain kinds of research. You may not want to lay out the $$ for all those enjoyable (but not inexpensive) novels. There are families who can barely afford housing and food and can't provide computer access or books to their children. Many libraries offer space and expertise to community groups (our library gives space to ESOL classes which are free and are attended by people who desperately want to learn English). Libraries offer a quiet refuge to those who want to read, study, compute or dream in peace. Libraries are more relevant than ever!

Posted by: Pro Library | June 22, 2007 9:54 AM

The library may change, but we will always need a place to store and protect the written word, let alone archive the other media and artifacts that are not digitized so easily. Oh, and let us not forget that many of the best resources on the internet you have to pay for; the library is the natural place to give the public free access.

The librarian may transform into part technology trainer, part archivist, part bibliophile, part researcher,(and part advocate for funds from the stingy public) but the nuts and bolts role is essentially the same. They tell you how to find what you are looking for.

Posted by: David S | June 22, 2007 9:55 AM

I didn't frequent DC libraries until we adopted our daughter, who is so obsessed with reading that we cannot afford to either purchase or store enough books to feed her habit. So we make a monthly trip to the Cleveland Park public library to check out at least 15 new books. I don't know which libraries you've been frequenting, Mr. Fisher, but we don't see too many seedy characters around ours.

Also, many of these public libraries *do* already conduct outreach efforts to local children. Google them and look at their websites for upcoming events. Plenty of great stuff goes on at the libraries! Sure, the ones in Montgomery County offer a bit more than the ones in DC (we particularly like the Long Branch library in Silver Spring, which offers bilingual story hours), but we're very happy with the Cleveland Park library and we most certainly do not think libraries are an outdated concept.

Libraries are also more environmentally friendly than Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com. Why buy a book when you can borrow it and then return it for others to enjoy?

I say this as someone who spends a great deal of time on line. As a friend of mine once said, "Hold your laptop in one hand and a book in the other. Now, drop both of them on the ground. Which one can you still read afterwards?"

Posted by: captainlarab | June 22, 2007 9:56 AM

Here's my laundry list of responses--First, not everything is online. Many older materials that are important for research are not available electronically, and may never be. I'm a research librarian at a private company, so I've had extensive experience trying to find printed materials that aren't available online. The printed word may be fading, but it's far from over. Also, many online research databases are astronomically expensive, and only well-funded libraries can provide access to them. And on another note, any evening when I go to the library in my neighborhood (Gaithersburg), it's always packed with people studying or checking out books. If your libraries are musty and decrepit, blame inadequate funding in DC for facilities maintenance; many other library systems have bright, clean libraries where people like to go.

Posted by: librarian | June 22, 2007 10:13 AM

I don't think that anyone should use DC's libraries as an example of why libraries are or are no longer relevant. Any problems with the libraries (including any residents claiming they are unnecessary) are part of the larger problem with D.C., mainly its education system.

I frequent both the Arlington and Fairfax county libraries (and have monthly meetings in an Alexandria City library) and they both have great selections and helpful librarians and volunteers.

Reading is so important, I think there needs to be more of a push to highlight the advantages of local libraries, for which I welcome this topic. However, anytime I read or hear someone question the value of public library systems I want to scream.

For what it's worth, I'm in my late 20s and have high-speed internet, but as an avid reader, there is no way I could afford to buy all the books I want to read. And don't forget the availability of books on tape and CD. They are horribly expensive. I'd never be able to listen to audio books while driving or working out if didn't have access to the library system.

Posted by: Carol | June 22, 2007 10:15 AM

where are you getting your information that young people are into borders and barnes and noble more than libraries? i visit both stores in the metro area and rarely see young folks, no matter the time of day. also, since when is dc's library system considered one of the worst in the nation? you have never written anything positive about dc's system. i honestly wonder if you actually use the public library. also, the computer revolution has drawn more folks to libraries, especially the young. more reason for me to believe that you really don't step foot in the public libraries in this town.

Posted by: wpost36 | June 22, 2007 10:15 AM

Libraries had their purpose, now it's time for them to go. I simply don't believe there are that many people who can't afford to buy a used book or two, and Internet access is readily available at reasonable prices. The prior posts include a doctor and several comments implying the books are free. Just because the books are paid for with money taken from our paychecks doesn't make them free. Reading is important, but let the market take care of that need thru businesses such as Blockbuster. I realize Blockbuster doesn't rent books, but if there is a great need, I'm sure some company would step in. You can also pick up books pretty cheap and in good shape at Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc. I'm just a little tired of my tax dollars paying for something that the users should be paying for on their own.

Posted by: ADunn | June 22, 2007 10:17 AM

Libraries often serve jobseekers who are typing resumes and searching for jobs online.
Also, libraries aren't just places to get books; commuters get books on tape and cd and listen to them on their way into work. Who wants to own an audiobook when you can just borrow it for a few weeks?
Or dvd or music rentals?
As information centers, they also have different classes, like MS Office classes where people can learn their way around different products or "DIY" classes on how to fix things in the home, or puppet shows for children.
They're often community centers where kids and the elderly can go for different activities.
I use online catalogs of my local library systems and have books delivered to my local branch via interlibrary loan. I am a voracious reader. I also work full time and am in grad school, It's such a time saver; I couldn't do without it!

Posted by: Liz | June 22, 2007 10:20 AM

ADunn, my tax dollars goes toward schools and I don't have children, but I'm not whining. Should all schools require parents to pay for their children to attend? Should that be expected? Get a life.

Posted by: Bookworm | June 22, 2007 10:23 AM

My house can't contain all the books I read. I depend on the library, like Jessica said, to check out books that seem interesting but I don't want to buy.

of course there is still a role for libraries!

Posted by: SS, MD | June 22, 2007 10:28 AM

Do you really need to ask this question, considering that not everyone wants to spend $30 bucks at B&N and Amazon every few weeks just to read books, and that some people need a place to study, or to take their children for an outing.

The reason for my success today is due in part to the time I spent in libraries as a child and college student, studying, quietly interacting with my peers and reading. I don't care how swollen the internet has become with (sometimes unreliable) information. Nothing beats a quiet afternoon spent in a library.

Posted by: Your Strawberry23 | June 22, 2007 10:32 AM

"I simply don't believe there are that many people who can't afford to buy a used book or two"

You clearly don't read much...

Posted by: Anon | June 22, 2007 10:32 AM

Why do I go to the library? So I can borrow books to read. Who really wants to read fiction on their laptop on the metro? Since I started using the libraries here I read more & spend less. Maybe that's bad for the book industry, but it's good for me.

Posted by: ami | June 22, 2007 10:32 AM

Libraries are also one way to reduce your consumerism and bring less "stuff" into your home. There's something that feels right about checking out a book, enjoying the story, and then sending it along for others to enjoy. Do I buy books? Sure, but often they are books I've checked out from the library first and liked so much I want to read them over and over. I've spent much less over the years this way and prevented myself from accumulating books I'll never crack open again.

Posted by: Avid Reader | June 22, 2007 10:37 AM

Looks like alot of librarians trying to defend their profession wrote it. I don't expect the many people who don't use libraries to respond. It's almost unamerican to admit you don't use a library.

Posted by: Margaret | June 22, 2007 10:41 AM

Libraries are a welcome respite to a world increasing filled with licensing and Digital Rights Management. If the concept of a library didn't already exist, I don't think anyone with any money would allow such a gap in the death-grip of content ownership.

Libraries are a blessing. I use them regularly, and have cards not only for the County I live in, but also for the County I work in.

Posted by: Ollabelle | June 22, 2007 10:41 AM

I love my libraries. There is nothing electronic, no matter how sophistocated, that could take the place of the pleasure of reading a real, hold-it-in-your-hands book.

A library is a place that helps enliven the spirit to learn from books, to read books and for the very young, to just look at books and turn the pages. We need libraries . . . the bookstore is a sore substitute for free public access to the power of the written word.

Posted by: chausti | June 22, 2007 10:51 AM

Are you completely insane? Of course we still need libraries. As a student, the only way I can read new books is by checking them out of the library. I am there every week getting a new supply. Also, contrary to popular belief, not everything is available on the internet yet. Many books and much reference material is still on paper, not digitized. Our libraries are still very necessary and deserving of our support.

Posted by: ep | June 22, 2007 10:56 AM

ADunn, you are clueless. There are people who go hungry in this country. There are people for whom even $5 is their food budget for the week. It's clear that education is not important to you and that it's not worth a modicum of your tax dollars to support the literacy of your community - your future doctors and caretakers, by the way. The ignorance displayed in your post makes it even clearer how much we need institutions that support access to information and life-long learning for everyone. I can only hope that you are one of those people who enjoy provoking a response and that you do not truly believe what it is you have written. Otherwise, it's just sad.

Posted by: Educated | June 22, 2007 10:56 AM

Marc, I can't tell if you were being serious or just trying to start discussion when you suggested that Borders etc. could replace libraries. If you were serious, then I pity you for your sheltered view of the world, but I'd like to believe that someone who covers the DC metro beat would be aware of the number of households in DC that don't have broadband (or any) internet access and/or don't have any computers. Libraries are community trusts, like parks, playgrounds, and schools.

Posted by: Rich | June 22, 2007 10:59 AM

Even if you don't use libraries because you would rather get your reading material and information elsewhere, doesn't mean that other people who don't have the means shouldn't be able to use them. And why should you support them? Because those kids who can't afford new books will someday be members of society too. Would you rather have kids who can't read as part of your community, or kids who had the opportunity to learn at the library?

Posted by: Laura | June 22, 2007 10:59 AM

The pressure to dumb America down continues. How many kids get on a computer to read a book or just browse to see what book might appeal to them? Library's aren't just for reseach. My 11 year old daughter is well known at our local library, carrying out 15 or so books every other week. She/we love the library and wish our branch was bigger because she's running out of books that she hasn't aready read.

Posted by: Alan | June 22, 2007 11:03 AM

The pressure to dumb America down continues. How many kids get on a computer to read a book or just browse to see what book might appeal to them? Library's aren't just for reseach. My 11 year old daughter is well known at our local library, carrying out 15 or so books every other week. She/we love the library and wish our branch was bigger because she's running out of books that she hasn't aready read.

Posted by: Alan | June 22, 2007 11:03 AM

I used to work at B&N, and I was staggered by the amount of kids coming in to do projects that wanted to "borrow" the books, take them to the Kinko's down the street, and copy the relevant pages. I would explain to them carefully that if they took the book out of the store *without paying for it*, that would be *stealing* and we would call the police. They would stare at me blankly, then protest that they only needed it for a few minutes! All this with a library 2 blocks away...

My beef then was that parents never spelled out the difference between a bookstore and a library, but I suppose in our consumer culture it's more patriotic to buy the book than to borrow it. How often can you find a free seat in a bookstore these days? People read the materials while they're there, without buying. How many school projects did I watch being researched with unpurchased books?! How many cups of coffee did I have to take away to avoid being spilled on the merchandise? Oy.

PLEASE! PLEASE! Parents, take your kids to the library. And donate your book-buying budget to your library, so that many other kids can benefit from nice new books. You really don't need that $5 coffee and re-heated scone anyway.

Posted by: Maritza | June 22, 2007 11:09 AM

Within a few decades, libraries will have gone the way of the ice-house and the coal-truck.

Virtually everything will be available electronically, and we will have many new formats by which to access it.

It will be fantastic in many ways, and certainly more comprehensive, accessible, and cost-effective.

Still, I will miss the serendipity of stumbling upon a great book in the stacks.

Posted by: gitarre | June 22, 2007 11:13 AM

Far from wishing libraries would cease to exist, I wish they had longer hours! Alexandria's libraries are closed on Friday and Saturday evenings. Sometimes all my weekday evenings are booked and I can't get to the library. It's frustrating on a Friday night to have no alternative than to spend money for a book or magazine that I'll read once.

I agree with what other folks have said about libraries being a great community resource -- not just for books, but for Internet access, and for expensive or rare research materials. I also heartily agree with the person who said it's sometimes faster to find specific information in a library than it is to find it online. I can flip through five or ten books by the time one page loads, even at broadband speeds.

I kind of like the idea of installing coffee shops in libraries. My only concern is the potential for damage to the collection. Borders can write off its coffee-stained volumes and order more from the publisher. Obviously, that wouldn't always be possible for libraries, given the large number of out-of-print volumes they stock.

Posted by: Lynne | June 22, 2007 11:13 AM

Although I haven't been to a library in years, I do see that value of having books--a snapshot in time--that can't be burned with a single keystroke.

Also, in our digital universe, there are still people like my 60-year-old mother, who simply have not embraced the Internet and never touches computers if at all possible. Should printed facts and fiction be reserved only for those who are tech-savvy?

Posted by: WikiLibrary | June 22, 2007 11:28 AM

People tend to forget that Libraries are a vital part of the internet age; Libraries are not archaic institutions that exist apart from the internet. Two points about that: first, your average library is wired and ready with public access internets available to primarily the low end of the economic spectrum who otherwise would have a hard time paying for access. Second, everything on the internet is not free. Check with your local library and odds are they are offering some premium online content that would be cost-prohibitive individually but is free with a library card.

Finally, books ain't goin' nowhere either!

Posted by: Bobby | June 22, 2007 11:31 AM

Oh to be critial of libraries. How taboo. It is easy to defend because who would speak bad about books and learning? And to do so would also be to speak bad about the children(and the old people as someone has already introduced) What about the childern? Give me a break. Libraries are great but at what cost?

Let's look as some numbers:
* At the current budget of $30MM+ year for operating expenses PLUS $30MM+ for recommended ANNUAL capital expenses, the District is paying $130 per resident or nearly $300 for EACH of the 219 thousand people (not residents) it serves--50% of whom are UNDER 5!!!
* According to the DC Library System, Childern (Newborn to 8th grade) represent 176 thousand or 80% of the total user base. But according to the census, DC only has 119 thousand residents under 18 NOT 14. So we have nearly 2x the number of users 14 and under as we have residents that age?? Sounds fishy...and highly inflated.

Too expensive!!! Only the school system seems to be a bigger money pit for the services they provide. The best comments I have read have come from DCer. Lets focus on them as functional and effective, not "touchy feely". Our librarians need to be information professionals, not day care providers. We are talking about a library, not a community center or student union. Let's not confuse them.

Posted by: Cold Cash Facts | June 22, 2007 11:31 AM

Educated, you're making my point. Wouldn't that money be better spent on helping the hungry and those that need health care than to buy books for people like SS who already has a house full of books. Bookworm, there are clearly some functions that government should provide. Infrastructure such as roads and utilities require government support. A basic education for citizens is perhaps one of the most important things. I just think once people have been provided with the basics, they can spend a few of their own bucks. If libraries stuck to research material and traditional books, I'd be a little more symapthetic. But DVDs, music CDs, and the latest summer read just don't reach the level of requiring government funds in my opinion. I should point out that I am completey in favor of providing library resources to kids through the schools. And Anon, not sure why you inferred that I don't read. Just because somebody doesn't agree with you shouldn't be a reason to attack their intelligence.

Posted by: ADunn | June 22, 2007 11:35 AM

We definitely need and use the library. As a matter of fact, the presence of the internet has enhanced libraries instead of replacing them:

I send my daughter to the library for research information on projects. Although I'm proficient at internet searches, the librarians have much more knowledge about relevant sites and how to access information. Also the library has subscribed to a multitude of databases not affordable to the average household (NYTimes, Wall Street Journal to name two)

Before we had internet access at home, I used the computers at the library to read my email.

I use online access to put books on hold and to renew books. This has been the best service from a library. Better, I use the interlibrary access to find books NOT in my county library system to get books from other counties.

Posted by: Bookworm | June 22, 2007 11:39 AM

Although I certainly support libraries, I have found that our local branch, Davis, is full of rude librarians. They do not like children and hate answering questions. We continue to go to this branch because it is close to home, but we stay far away from the unhelpful staff.

Posted by: Bethesdamom | June 22, 2007 11:39 AM

I moved to DC six years ago. In my previous homes--suburban Kansas City, suburban Denver, and Ann Arbor MI--the public libraries were building bright, spacious, attractive new facilities. They were jammed with people of all ages, at all times. In Denver, especially, one of the biggest problems using the library was finding parking!

Here in DC, I've entered a library precisely three times, and I've never applied for a library card. Not only are the facilities old and musty, but the collections were threadbare and dated.

The Olsson's, Barnes & Noble, and Borders stores in DC get plenty of traffic, so apparently people are still drawn to books and magazines. If libraries provide equally attractive and useable facilities, usage is not a problem.

Posted by: Nick | June 22, 2007 11:46 AM

There are so many movies I want to see but can't afford to buy or rent. Should the government buy them and let me see them for free?

I would like to go to tons of plays but can't afford to. Can't the government pay and let me see them for free?

I would like to regularly listen to music from all the latest artist but can't afford to. Shouldn't the government buy it and let me listen for free?

I would like to visit all differnt areas of downtown to take in all the sights but don't want to pay for the parking meters and garages. The governments should pay that for me!

I would like to use a boat and go out into the potomac and paddle around and learn but can't afford it. The city should pay so I can do it for free.

My question is, What are people supposed to pay for and what should they get for free? Everything I mentioned would provide just as valuable an education as books, why do they all have a cost? Books are only one vehicle for learning, (Not the best one regardless of all the books snobs and "my kids read 10 books a day" blowhards commenting here) Why do they and readers get special treatment?

Posted by: Free Please | June 22, 2007 11:51 AM

Libraries are important as a physical place to go, but they are also crucial as an electronic destination. You can search databases, get full text of journal articles, and get guided help for finding information on the Internet without leaving your home. My public library even has downloadable books from their website. Libraries are changing to keep up with what people need.

As a place in the community, libraries can't be replaced for the reasons most of these comments have pointed out. My 87 year old grandmother would be lost without the library. Living on a limited budget, she can't buy all the books she reads. But don't forget to look at the websites of your local libraries. You'll find a lot more there, in addition to what you find in the building.

Posted by: Stephanie | June 22, 2007 11:54 AM

Marc Fisher betrays how rarely he visits the eastern part of the city. While there are a wealth of bookstores in downtown and upper northwest, as well has some very good branches of the DC public libraries, that wealth does not really exist east of 14th st, NW. The only place to purchase books if you live in NE is from CVS or a grocery store, neither location known for their selection. Further only the wealthiest of parents can afford to purchase the range and variety of books that are needed to develop literacy for a child. If more than 4th grade literacy is important for this city and most leaders claim it is so, libraries are actually critical infrastructure for the future of this city and even the wider region.

Posted by: Charlotte DC | June 22, 2007 11:56 AM

In the long run, libraries may end up changing into something like a combined community center/ publicly available study hall and Internet access facility. Maybe people will be able to download the text of books in the public domain for free and ones under copyright for less than it costs to buy them now, and everyone will be used to reading from electronic devices instead of books. Librarians would become people who direct people to the right place on the Net to get the information they need or the book they want.

In the short term, lots of information still isn't available on the Internet, and I may be in the last generation that still likes to read dead-tree books, but I'm not that old yet. I've lived in many different places, and one thing they had in common was busy libraries that were used by a cross-section of the population, not just little kids or well-to-do people. One important function they serve, but which seems to get overlooked, is to provide a place for older children and teenagers to study and do research for school projects from a wider array of resources than is available in school libraries.

Posted by: bookworm | June 22, 2007 11:56 AM

Just FYI, I'm "bookworm", but not "Bookworm", who posted above. Two different bookworms, who may end up in the same library someday.

Posted by: bookworm | June 22, 2007 12:01 PM

I love our local libraries! I have used them in the past to study for the bar exam and job hunt, and now my 3 year old loves going also. We are able to pick out DVDs for him (and me) to watch that I don't want to buy or rent, and he is able to browse all the different books and figure out which ones he wants to "borrow." As a former DC resident, I also used to frequent the Georgetown library which has since burned down. Since I pay Arlington County taxes, I am grateful that my tax dollars are spent in making the library a wonderful experience.

Posted by: north arlington | June 22, 2007 12:11 PM

"Virtually everything will be available electronically, and we will have many new formats by which to access it." -gitarre

And who will evaluate, organize, index, and summarize all of this information? Librarians. Just because it's online, doesn't mean it's not a library.

Public libraries are wonderful, but not all libraries have walls. Digital libraries will be an important part of our future, led by librarians.

Posted by: Liz | June 22, 2007 12:18 PM

While the idea of a library is "decrepit" to some, please step outside of your suburban, middle-class self to realize there are MANY people who need the resources libraries offer. Beyond books, most libraries offer bulletin boards or announce community resources. They have meeting space for civic clubs. They offer homework help, and yes - free DVD / CD rentals. Libraries are still essential, especially for young families on a limited budget.

Posted by: College Parker | June 22, 2007 12:18 PM

I work in a public library, and I often talk people through an internet search on the phone. The internet has too much information, too many sites, and too much garbage to be a true replacement for a trained information professional 100% of the time. I have also helped many people using a computer for the first time -- often to type a resume. Rich people with high-speed internet, laptops, blackberrys and a penchant for latte may decide to buy rather than borrow but they're only a small percentage of taxpayers.

Parents here are dead-on about kids' books. Children who read go through books like bon-bons and their reading levels grow faster than their shoe sizes. Kids may have a few favorite titles they'd like to own, but being able to browse through thousands of books and take what they like without limits truly does expand a child's mind. I have personally known children who read several grade levels above their age due to following their nose around the library.

And even though I have a budget for books, I borrow the newest political titles when they're discussed in the news. I want to read for myself what the media reduces to soundbites. With the press (including the Post) worried too much about advertising sales or losing "access" to the White House and not enough about the future of democracy, it's up to the public library to be sure citizens of of all income levels can educate themselves about their government and double-check the pundits.

...which reminds me, Al Gore's newest book is on the coffee table waiting for me to take it to the pool. The poor sad laptop will have to stay inside today.

Posted by: Librarian | June 22, 2007 12:19 PM

It is disheartening to see that there are a few people who still don't understand that information/education is power. If you limit access to information by closing libraries, etc. then you are cutting off many people from the very edcuation that makes them informed citizens. Libraries provide free access to all sorts of information that many people (due to economics, etc.) would not be able to access. As such, libraries are an extremely vital part of our society.(At least the one part that still believes in an informed and educated citizenry).

Posted by: Avid Reader | June 22, 2007 12:23 PM

Librarian, you're a perfect example of what I posted earlier. You first claim that the rich people, with their laptops and blackberrys can afford books, but many can't. Then you end with taking your borrowed book to the pool while you leave your laptop at home. You certainly don't sound that hard off.
By the way, who decides what is "too much information"?

Posted by: ADunn | June 22, 2007 12:27 PM

One of the many falsehoods of the internet age is that everything is available and all the information trustworthy. So not true. What's that old saying...nobody knows you're a dog on the internet? As a librarian in a business I know how much the trustworthy sites cost and there is no way an individual could afford them.

Also, the points made that libraries offer people the opportunity to use a book and then put it back into the community - recycling, so to speak.

Third, getting guidance from a trained professional is accepted in medicine, law, accounting, and many other fields. Going to a library and asking "what do you recommend as a good source for..." is the same.

To those who think being able to get music via CD's from a library is outside its function (talk about narrow minded!) let me say that I learned about classical music by being able to borrow records (yes, I'm or an age...) from the wonderful Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Oakland branch. There was no way I could have bought those albums at the age of 13 or so. Yet I still had access to the world of music.

Libraries are the bedrock of a civilised society.

Posted by: Lo | June 22, 2007 12:29 PM

ADunn, it amazes me that you can read all of the comments here and still believe that a library is not a worthwhile use of tax dollars. I feel sorry for you. I cannot WAIT to take my son to the library when he's old enough to appreciate it but before he has access to a school library. And if the only libraries are provided in schools, children will not have access during vacation breaks.

And for what it's worth, Anon's point that you must not read much wasn't that you are not intelligent, nor was it intended as an insult. (That you took it that way speaks volumes.) The point was that if one were to buy every single book he or she read (which would cost more than "a few of their own bucks"), that would necessarily limit one's number of books read. Unless that person is wealthy, of course. Libraries afford everyone the chance to be as widely read as he or she chooses. That has to be good for society--certainly as good or better than many other government-supported endeavors.

Posted by: ColumbiaMom | June 22, 2007 12:33 PM

Books are really personal for me. In recent years, I have been writing my reactions in the margins of political and biographical books that I buy. Of course, I don't condon writing in borrowed books. One of the reasons that I continue to buy books is that I can obtain them inexpensively from discount chains and from the internet. With regards to DC library branches, CharlotteDC makes an excellent point about bookstores east of 14th Street, N.W. I extend that point to the library branches as well. As a DC resident, I accessed two DC libraries as meeting places and felt unwelcomed in both. I accessed an Arlington public library branch on many occasions for meetings and loved it. Our obsevations on libraries are as varied as our exposures and experiences.

Posted by: WritesInBooks | June 22, 2007 12:37 PM

I guess you missed the Washington Post story describing a woman outside the Georgetown Library crying as it burned down! Even here in Georgetown where many of us can afford to buy as many books as we like and have computers in our homes, there is a demand for the library. My kids go through books like water and more importantly they're learning the valuable lesson of CONSERVING. Why must we BUY everything?

Posted by: WashDCMum | June 22, 2007 12:41 PM

A lot of people don't realize that over 90% of what is on the Internet won't show up on engines like Google, because the information resides in subscription databases that libraries can provide access to.

For instance, there are more pages of content just on LexisNexis than on the entire World Wide Web!

Posted by: Louis Abramovitz | June 22, 2007 12:41 PM

Not all librarians attending the ALA conference are public or grade school librarians. Some are research or law librarians, some are academic librarians from a wide range of undergraduate and graduate disciplines, some work with private corporations and there are certainly other types I am leaving out. If you do a search of professional peer-reviewed journals you would know that this profession and the library and information sciences is a burgeoning field like a weed to journalism's flower of blogging and will never go away. Blogging,..., who knows where that will be in a few years.

I disagree with Gitarre. This Heinlein-esque view of the future makes for good science fiction. Libraries were here 50 years ago, they'll be around 50 years from now. Once public libraries get their act together, it's stone and mortar bookstores that should watch their back.

Posted by: Bill | June 22, 2007 12:44 PM

I'd like to echo the comments of WashDCMum just above. Why must we focus on buying things that we could easily share? Information, space, physical objects, food, militaries, votes, laws, beliefs... all of these are increasingly (or not increasingly) sold to the highest bidder. Maybe the best thing that libraries have to teach our children (cause we've certainly missed the boat) is that, hey, other people use stuff too! Funny that. Maybe we could... I don't know... share stuff?

Posted by: sreggio | June 22, 2007 12:52 PM

All of the positive comments about libraries give some hope to an over-wired world.

Let's make sure we keep funding libraries
Reminds me of a quote by Derek Bok, president of Harvard in the '90s

"If you think education is expensive, consider the alternative."

Posted by: Tim Rhodes | June 22, 2007 12:53 PM

This is a joke - of course we need libraries!

As a 20-year old, a living example of the generation that grew up, is accustomed to, and adores the digital gadgets that rule our modern world, there's no doubt in my head that libraries are useful little places. All the books I wanna read? Free, at the library. All the in-depth research I need to do that google provided crappy links to? At the library, with a friendly old lady to help me find it. When I don't have a computer, printer, or internet access, the library has it. A quiet place to study primely located near a Starbucks or fast food place is the equivalent of chill hang out place with my buddies - and it has had that status since we discovered that our parents would readily approve of such a place, and even give us money for food too.

The library is a vital public resource. Emphasis on public and free. Just because some of you don't use the library doesn't mean they are obsolete for the rest of us. ;-)

Posted by: G | June 22, 2007 1:12 PM

I'd rather go to my local library than a big-box bookstore ANY day. I'm not surrounded by schmarmy merchandising, and it's as easy to find classics and obscure topics as it is to find the flavor-of-the-week bestseller. And let's not forget that librarians generally are also readers, unlike your average bookstore clerk. As for the idea that the internet is replacing books, that's just laughable. They aren't the same thing. Has your microwave replaced your stove?

Posted by: LibraryPatron | June 22, 2007 1:19 PM

My five-year-old daughter just spent an hour and a half at the library. I read to her the whole time, choosing from the excellent books they had on display. The summer reading program has inspired her to read 10 books on her own. Her reading has noticeably improved since the start of the summer reading program. She will be well prepared for kindergarten this fall, and the summer reading program has a lot to do with it.

Posted by: Neighbor | June 22, 2007 1:23 PM

In my town, the library IS the community center. Sure, *I* have internet access at home, but lots and lots of families just can't afford it. My public library provides computer classes that my husband is taking to try to get a better job. They also feature art exhibits from local artists, and have authors come and give talks. We are not church-going people, so this is the closest thing to community that we've GOT.

Posted by: Julie | June 22, 2007 1:28 PM

The Wall Street Journal wrote an article a while ago about libraries that analyzed their usage. Seems like community libraries tend to focus a lot of resources on bestsellers, videos, CD's, internet usage, and magazines. Essentially, taxpayers are subsidizing entertainment for the middle classes. It recommended scaling back libraries to educational materials that focused on children and expensive databases or subscription materials that individuals are unlikely to be able afford on their own (like encyclopedias, AM Best Insurer Rating Guides, etc). It kind of bothers me that my tax dollars are used to by 500 copies of the South Beach Diet book, so people could save $12 on buying the book (that the vast majority could well afford) or to save $4 from Blockbuster video. Any savings would better be channeled into schools or universal wireless internet access.

Posted by: e | June 22, 2007 1:29 PM

Come to my Mount Pleasant branch in the District and tell me libraries aren't relevant (or that all DC libraries are the worst around). It is packed every day that it's open -- with kids, with recent immigrants working on their English, with neighbors of all types. It is a community hub and information bonanza, and it didn't need any kind of Starbucksification to get there (though the new carpet and paint was welcome). My 2 year old goes there at least twice a week and loves to do the puzzles and just sit with a stack of books. My older two were as excited as they've ever been the day they got their own library cards. We buy plenty of books too, and the kids enjoy the occasional Borders/B&N outing, but they will never take the place of the library.

Posted by: MTP, DC | June 22, 2007 1:39 PM

The best comments I have read have come from DCer. Lets focus on them as functional and effective, not "touchy feely".
-----
I appreciate that. BTW I was a libary assistant for years.

Posted by: DCer | June 22, 2007 1:39 PM

Sure, 500 copies of any book, especially South Beach, are obnoxious, but what if a few people actually read it and use it as a springboard for a healthier lifestyle?

Many libraries also stock videos or DVDs that are not readily available at your neighborhood video store. I just saw a documentary on Afghani women that was at my local library. Who knows, that copy of the "The New World" may spark an interest in knowing the true story of Pocahontas.

Posted by: To e at 1:29 | June 22, 2007 1:45 PM

The first line of your article says it all: 25,000 Librarians! Quite an important gathering of educated professionals! It's one of the biggest national professional conventions in the U.S., and is thus very important in bringing revenue to the city! Your views sound somewhat outdated, as if you are not aware of all the specialized database services,information literacy initiatives and modern buildings that now make up today's library scene! I hope, if you ever attend a journalists' convention, that the local newspaper doesn't question the need for newspapers!

Posted by: Librarian & proud of it | June 22, 2007 1:59 PM

Excellent point e. Several posters have stated that doing away with libraries will require us to buy all these books. Why can't you buy a used book and share it with your family and friends, then donate it too Goodwill, and while your there, buy another book for $1 and start the cycle over again? Why does the government have to be involved?

Columbiamom, no need to feel sorry for me, I'm doing just fine, but thanks for the thought. I do read, and it costs me very little. Books are routinely traded through my family and I purchase many at second-hand stores for less than $1. Books are probably the most common gift in my family for birthdays and Christmas. I can't remember the last time I paid full price for a book, but it's rare. I've just been creative in where to find books at very low costs.
My hometown in New England has a trailer set up at the town dump. Residents can leave used books there or take books at no cost. It's free and doesn't cost a nickel to users or taxpayers. Why can't we look for solutions like that instead of using taxpayer dollars to buy books?

Posted by: ADunn | June 22, 2007 2:01 PM

Written by a rich white person. Not everyone has access to high speed cable internet in their overpriced house. Guess where those without the means go for their internet access: the Library.

Posted by: Anon | June 22, 2007 2:11 PM

ADunn, by your argument, we should feed the poor and provide healthcare for them, but we shouldn't support their literacy. And if we do, only through the schools and certainly not for adults who may want to continue learning even beyond their school years. My point is that we are all better off when we support and encourage education and literacy in our communities for all people regardless of socioeconomic level. I want to live in a world where people are educated and literate. You've made it obvious where you want to live. And sadly, there are too many places where you can have it your way.

Posted by: Educated | June 22, 2007 2:15 PM

Why can't you buy a used book and share it with your family and friends, then donate it too Goodwill, and while your there, buy another book for $1 and start the cycle over again? Why does the government have to be involved?
----

Why can't you buy a gun and act as your own private police force association? why should there also be a police force? or a military? or a post office?

Especially why not the post office? why not ship all your letters via federal express? that wouldn't somehow cause a logjam in our economy, would it? It's not like you'd take those taxes and pay even more for private delivery+profit, would it?

after all, I don't use a governmental service, I don't see why someone else should!

Eliminate libraries and you'll have the literate countries taking over our home-grown companies and sending the profits elsewhere. Any CEO will tell you that. The US thrived on educating the poor through many means. taking that away will cost you more in "poverty taxes" like insurance, theft and jails. there is no money to be saved from closing libraries.

Posted by: DCer | June 22, 2007 2:21 PM

From a post of ADunn's" "My hometown in New England has a trailer set up at the town dump. Residents can leave used books there or take books at no cost. It's free and doesn't cost a nickel to users or taxpayers. Why can't we look for solutions like that instead of using taxpayer dollars to buy books?"

Where should I start? If you just want something, anything to read, perhaps that's enough for you. What if you want a particular book or to research a particular topic? Does this trailer at the town dump have a broad collection? Is it catalogued or will you have to spend time you may not have rummaging to see if what you want is there? If it isn't, will you then go and rummage in all the trailers at all the dumps in nearby towns? Face it, if public libraries didn't already exist, they would have to be invented.

Also, to whoever it was who said they're opposed to public libraries but of course support the provision of library services to children in schools, many schools, in DC at least, don't have any libraries. I assume you are therefore in favour of public libraries at least until all schools do have adequate library services. I also assume you will also continue to be in favour of public libraries for the use of the home-schooled even if we ever reach a point where all public schools have excellent libraries.

Posted by: Jon | June 22, 2007 2:30 PM

I don't use the public library for research or the internets, usually. I just get books there. They have a lot of books, and the books are free, unlike at bookstores. I don't hang out there and read. I just get my books and go.

Posted by: Horselina | June 22, 2007 2:40 PM

Libraries are a great place to "rent" books for people whose budgets are tight and do not have the means to pay $25.00 to $30.00 for a book. My library allows me to reserve a book on line and pick it up when it is available. I used to buy books, but I've been disappointed too many times in books that were hyped as great fiction or the lastest great non-fiction book. I don't like Borders, Barnes and Noble, nor Starbucks, so I definitely do not want libraries to close. My local library is always busy. Closing of libraries will just be further evidence of the decline of American culture.

Posted by: Janet | June 22, 2007 2:43 PM

Yes, we do need libraries. I would not be where I am and have the job that I have without the access to a public library and my parents insistence that we go there every weekend and read and check out books. It kept me and my brothers off the streets and we all ended up as lawyers and doctors. Every parent of elementaary school age children could save a bundle and prepare their kids for the future by insisting on library time every Saturday for their kids instead of letting them vegeetate in front of the TV all day. Now, if they could only get those smelly bums out of there......!

Posted by: C-dog | June 22, 2007 2:44 PM

Educated, please read my previous posts. I support schools and libraries in schools. If a person is not literate by the time they have completed 12+ years of schooling, I don't think libraries are the answer. I've never said people shouldn't support education and literacy, I just don't think it should be done with tax dollars. History has shown that typically churches, private industry, and volunteers do a more efficient job of helping people who need it. Please don't twist my words and state that because I don't support government funds being used to buy copies of the latest Grisham novel and Animal House DVD that I am in favor of denying an education to children.
Anon, bringing up what you guessed is my race is innappropriate and does nothing to add to the discussion. While I disagree with Educated and other posters here, I respect their opinions and am glad they have the opportunity to be heard. I may be wrong in this issue. I do not experience the world from every point of view, only mine. Everybody's experiences are different and lead to different opinions. I read posts like these to try to see things from other perspectives and see the other side to my opinions, I would encourage you to do the same.

Posted by: ADunn | June 22, 2007 2:46 PM

Jon, I'm not opposed to public libraries remaining in place until libraries can be placed in schools, with access to home-schooled children. I just think a library in a school is far more valuable then a library to which patrons must drive. I also wish that if libraries do continue, as they most certainly will, that they focus their resources on childrens material and research material. If libraries spent less on entertainment-type resources like movies and summer novels, I would be much more inclined to be supportive.
The trailer at the dumb is not perfect. You do have to brouse the shelves and it's hit or miss. If you're trying to research heart disease or find a particular novel, it's not the place to go. But if you just need a book to read at the beach, pool, park, or airport, it's a perfect solution. I don't think it's the answer to everything, but it's the type of solution we should pursue.

Posted by: ADunn | June 22, 2007 2:58 PM

I meant "trailer at the dump" above ...

Posted by: ADunn | June 22, 2007 3:00 PM

The trailor at the dump probably contains romance novels and MAD magazines.

Posted by: WB | June 22, 2007 3:29 PM

I have pretty much only used libraries for research projects a teacher or professor assigned. As an adult out of school, I never once visited a library, until I had kids. I have two toddlers and we make weekly trips to our neighborhood library, about a 15-minute walk away. We read, draw, attend story-hour, meet other young kids, and so on. I rarely buy books for my kids because it's just too expensive. Plus, it seems like a waste since they love a book one day and want nothing to do with it the next. With the library, we can check out up to 50(!) children's books at a time.

I think one way for the DC library to improve is for members to have the ability to check each branch online to see what books, dvds, etc is in its collection and whether it has been checked out or not.

Posted by: emb | June 22, 2007 3:34 PM

Libraries are fundamental to a free society, the continual provision of the wisdom, information, and data vital to the life of a community. The first thing that despots do is burn books and libraries-- they know the power of free information. Why don't we?

Posted by: vera | June 22, 2007 3:40 PM

People seem to think that the absence of a library would mean the absence of books from people's lives. Not so! For example, closing some older and less trafficked regional libraries and directing budget resources to something like a regional Netflix for books or any other alternative distribution system. Libraries are still a public resource and should be tailored to fit the majority.

Posted by: anonymous | June 22, 2007 3:47 PM

Are people serious about closing libraries being a good thing? Do you really want to have the marketing people at Barnes and Noble deciding what books will be available to the public? Or poor kids not to have access to books? Or people who can't afford computers to have no access to the internet? Or to have Starbucks be the only place for the community to gather (make sure you can afford a $3 latte)?

Posted by: Amie | June 22, 2007 3:48 PM

I use my local public library all the time, for myself and my children. I can't imagine what we'd do without it. We get books and videos from our library every 3 weeks (at the end of every loan period). I can't afford to purchase all the books we read. We spend very little time with electronic media, because it's too full of marketing junk. Michelle.

Posted by: Michelle | June 22, 2007 3:56 PM

Personally, I agree that public libraries generally put too much effort into pandering to the lowest common denominator (somewhat elitist of both of us, perhaps) but view this as an argument for improving them rather than eliminating them.

Others have made the point but it bears restating - many if not most of us find libraries that are open outside school hours and on weekends more useful than libraries that are inaccessible inside school buildings. Perhaps you support increasing the taxpayer-funded school budget to address this problem by keeping the school buildings open evenings and weekends?

Also, I don't know what the furthest it is possible to live from the nearest public library within the District is but I would be astonished if it's further than I'm capable of walking in half an hour. By bicycle, I'm sure I can get to a library from anywhere in the District in less than 15 minutes. The situation is admittedly more challenging in more car dependent suburban and rural areas but, even there, libraries tend to be clustered where the people are or are forced to drive anyway in order to do other necessary errands.

Posted by: Jon | June 22, 2007 4:00 PM

Amie, people are already making that decision. It's just a librarian making the decision instead of Barnes and Noble, not sure what the difference is. And why can't the community gather at one of the many parks scattered throughout the region.
Regarding the poor kids need the library for books, anybody want to wager what percentage of people in the region's libraries right now have cable TV?

Posted by: ADunn | June 22, 2007 4:01 PM

I have been to Davis library in Bethesda and the librarians are helpful not rude. They even listen to my five year old ask questions which is not easy. She would not have her favorite ballerina series without them.

I love libraries and can't imagine life without them.

Posted by: MomD | June 22, 2007 4:02 PM

I have been to Davis library in Bethesda and the librarians are helpful not rude. They even listen to my five year old ask questions which is not easy. She would not have her favorite ballerina series without them.

I love libraries and can't imagine life without them.

Posted by: MomD | June 22, 2007 4:02 PM

"Libraries had their purpose, now it's time for them to go. I simply don't believe there are that many people who can't afford to buy a used book or two, and Internet access is readily available at reasonable prices."

Posted by: ADunn | June 22, 2007 10:17 AM

There are people who cannot afford to buy even one used book, but they ought to be able to have the access that the people who can afford it have. Try reading *The Glass Castle* by Jeannette Walls.

As far as the Internet being affordable at reasonable prices, reasonable to whom? You may not be "rich," but you have never been truly poor.

ADunn, you are clueless. There are people who go hungry in this country. There are people for whom even $5 is their food budget for the week. It's clear that education is not important to you and that it's not worth a modicum of your tax dollars to support the literacy of your community - your future doctors and caretakers, by the way. The ignorance displayed in your post makes it even clearer how much we need institutions that support access to information and life-long learning for everyone. I can only hope that you are one of those people who enjoy provoking a response and that you do not truly believe what it is you have written. Otherwise, it's just sad.

Posted by: Educated | June 22, 2007 10:56 AM

"Educated, you're making my point."

No, I am not. You seem to be twisting what I have said, so I do not know that communication is actually possible between us.

"Wouldn't that money be better spent on helping the hungry and those that need health care than to buy books for people like SS who already has a house full of books."

It is not an "either/or" proposition from my point of view.

"Bookworm, there are clearly some functions that government should provide. Infrastructure such as roads and utilities require government support. A basic education for citizens is perhaps one of the most important things. I just think once people have been provided with the basics, they can spend a few of their own bucks. If libraries stuck to research material and traditional books, I'd be a little more symapthetic. But DVDs, music CDs, and the latest summer read just don't reach the level of requiring government funds in my opinion. I should point out that I am completey in favor of providing library resources to kids through the schools."

Posted by: ADunn | June 22, 2007 11:35 AM

This is what you have written:
"I should point out that I am completey in favor of providing library resources to kids through the schools."
"If a person is not literate by the time they have completed 12+ years of schooling, I don't think libraries are the answer."

ADunn, by your argument, we should feed the poor and provide healthcare for them, but we shouldn't support their literacy. And if we do, only through the schools and certainly not for adults who may want to continue learning even beyond their school years.

My point is that we are all better off when we support and encourage education and literacy in our communities for all people regardless of socioeconomic level. I want to live in a world where people are educated and literate. You've made it obvious where you want to live. And sadly, there are too many places where you can have it your way.

Posted by: Educated | June 22, 2007 02:15 PM

How do you know that someone has had 12+ years of schooling? What if they have not? My grandmother had only an 8th grade education because she had to go to work. My father-in-law has only an 8th grade education. What about anyone who has moved here from another country? I have had 12+ years of education and am still learning. I think we can agree that we have different definitions of what it means to be educated and literate. I do want more than the "basics" as you say. I want everyone to have equal access to information regardless of whether or not they can afford it and regardless of their age or educational background.

You wrote:
"While I disagree with Educated and other posters here, I respect their opinions and am glad they have the opportunity to be heard. I may be wrong in this issue. I do not experience the world from every point of view, only mine. Everybody's experiences are different and lead to different opinions. I read posts like these to try to see things from other perspectives and see the other side to my opinions, I would encourage you to do the same."

I'm really glad to read that. You have sparked discussion.


Posted by: Educated | June 22, 2007 4:12 PM

From emb: "I think one way for the DC library to improve is for members to have the ability to check each branch online to see what books, dvds, etc is in its collection and whether it has been checked out or not."

Uh... the DCPL catalog system has the ability to search only the holdings at any particular branch and to show you what has been checked out. Though there are a few bugs in the system, mostly, in my experience, related to the catalog not matching the reality of what's on the shelves.

Similarly, the hold system is great in theory but sometimes highly unsatisfactory in practice. I've had the experience on more than one occasion of it taking more than a month for the library to deliver to my local branch a book of which, according to the catalog, there were multiple copies available at other branches at the time I made the request. Also, many instances of not being able to find on the shelves the books the catalog claims should be there - so, admittedly, the hold system at least saves me the effort of making special trips to distant branches in search of items that aren't actually there.

Posted by: Jon | June 22, 2007 4:14 PM

I've been going to the library since I was 3 years old. The library is great for trying out new authors or trying to find out-of-print books by favorites.

Last year I read 178 books, not counting the ones that I disliked and didn't finish. There is no way that I could have afforded to buy that many books. While I have exchanged books with friends, most of them like different genres, and no one else in my family reads due to learning disabilities. I've tried asking for books for Christmas; the results were . . . interesting (How the heck do you mistake Danielle Steele for Elizabeth Moon???). The used books stores are fine if you want two year old best sellers or old classics that were required reading in the high schools, but I seldom find anything. Plus most places areound here charge $2 or $3 a piece for paperback books, including the nearest Salvation Army store. And after working on a computer all day at work, the last thing that I want to do is look at one at home.

If we have to get rid of the libraries, can we also get rid of lighted sports fields, water parks, basketweaving classes, and all of the other entertainment provided by Fairfax County that I don't use? I'll need that tax money for books.

Posted by: WMA | June 22, 2007 4:22 PM

Jon: Regarding the online catalog and the hold system: I have found both to be faulty more than 50% of the time if not 90% of the time.

In Arlington County, everything works great and I regularly used their system to reserve books I could pick up 2 days later. In DC I was never notified EVER that ANY of my reserves came in and when I visited the library to check ALL my reserve requests were "missing" from my account even though they were there two weeks earlier.

No, sadly the DC online catalog is almost zero percent functional. I complained to a DC library official about it and they asked me if I wanted to meet with their staff about software design. FOR FREE. (this sounds unlikely, but it really happened, and the company I worked for at the time explored the idea of providing consulting work to DC Libraries.)

Posted by: DCer | June 22, 2007 4:59 PM

ADunn questions the difference between librarians making the decisions on what to buy versus Barnes & Noble?!?!
HELLO!! Barnes & Noble, Borders, BAMM, etc are in the biz for one thing, and one thing only, to make MONEY. They will push the latest crap (like Kevin Trudeau) until they are blue in the face, to make money. Librarians are building a balanced, representative collection on EVERY topic imaginable, to meets the needs of their community, not the almighty dollar.

THAT is the difference.

Posted by: BookFreak | June 22, 2007 5:19 PM

Well, at least if and when my holds eventually come in, the email notification has worked.

Which reminds me to get back to what Marc originally asked regarding what we want from the system. Personally and in the context of my being a DC resident and therefore preferring to use the DCPL (though I have library cards from two neighbouring jurisdictions), I have two big wishes:

1 - that they'd get their IT systems, specifically circulation control and the catalog, and related procedures in order. I say procedures because I've been told the hold process often fails as a result of the computer sytem working and flagging a particular copy of the item I want as the one that ought to be sent to me but the library personnel failing to then actually obtain and forward the item (or, the item being unfindable, failing to take appropriate action to make the computer system designate another copy to be found and sent to me).

2 - rational policies as to what to buy. As an example of one particular form on insanity I've witnessed, when DCPL started their graphic novels collection, they bought a large number of copies of Art Spiegelman's "Maus" and "Maus II" apparently without giving any thought to the fact DCPL already owned quite a few more copies of these two works than they seemed able to actually lend at any one time. (Of course, this example dates from a number of years ago. I'm at least hopeful that Ginnie Cooper's personnel changes have brought in a closer approach to sanity - I can't claim to have been paying close enough attention to any recent purchases to reach any conclusion as to whether or not this has been the case.)

Posted by: Jon | June 22, 2007 5:44 PM

A library isn't just a random space that happens to hold books that you can read. Libraries are a community statement that says we are willing to make a commitment to supporting the intellectual well-being of our community.

As a child of immigrants, while bookstores were great and novel for weekend trips (considering the suburban sprawl, only accessible by car)--the library was a great place near home to just sit in the stacks, pick a subject and start reading. No worries about the classics being set aside to make room for the 'bestsellers' of the day.

I always found the library to be a welcoming place, and I could never envision Starbucks or Borders being able to fully supplant its role in our society. And the belief that Borders and Starbucks serves as a viable substitute seems to ignore that not everyone can afford a 4 dollar latte or a 20 dollar book on a daily or even weekly basis. My family certainly couldn't growing up, and with the help of the library I ended up at an Ivy League school.

I could actually imagine a different future for me if libraries didn't exist. Even now in London I regularly go to the British Library for important research on opening my own business here--resources I would not be able to find elsewhere without a substantial charge.

Posted by: Bea | June 22, 2007 5:54 PM

Long story short, I love the library because they take the books back. Our bookshelves are full. I use the internet to see if a title is available, then go to a branch and check it out. Then they take it back and keep it until I want to read it again. It's the most wonderful service.

Posted by: James Worthey | June 22, 2007 6:00 PM

It is shocking to me that this question is even being asked. Libraries are a resource that every community needs. Not everyone has a computer and even people that do have one (me) use libraries for countless different reasons. I worked in a library in a high-tech area and it was jammed from opening to closing. This was in an area where people had money to buy computers, books and magazines. An area where people have limited resources needs a public library even more. Books can never be replaced by computers - and neither can librarians.

Posted by: ERS | June 22, 2007 6:18 PM

I am an urban public librarian. I introduce someone to "the mouse" every day. With unemployment offices going online and many employers only taking online applications, the public libraries have an increasingly important role in helping people find employment.

Millions of people in this country are not computer literate. It's called the Digital Divide.

Posted by: HBW | June 22, 2007 7:17 PM

The question was "Have you seen your use of libraries drop off since the computer became standard equipment at home and at work, and what would you want from libraries in the future?"

We definitely need libraries to archive information that has no commercial value but a lot of cultural significance. For this reason I cannot agree with whoever said that we should let the market govern. If the market governed, no one would feel any loss when the Georgetown library burned and all that history it was preserving went up in smoke.

It might even be a dangerous thing to citizenship to "let the market govern" when it comes to information. The government information that is available on the Web is organized and indexed by librarians. There is no other way this information would be available. Not only that, Google has librarians to index its Web pages and make them searchable.

Posted by: np522 | June 22, 2007 8:16 PM

I think this article is an excellent example of why libraries are so important. This article contains no research but is full of tired clichés, stereotypes and personal anecdotes. If the author did just a small amount of research, he would find that library usage is up, not down, that circulation has increased:
http://www.ala.org/ala/alalibrary/libraryfactsheet/alalibraryfactsheet6.cfm
I have no doubt at all that many well paid writers, doctors, lawyers, etc., simply visit bookstores or Starbucks to fulfill the needs that may have once been met at the library, but even the wealthy visit libraries. In fact it is typical that the wealthiest counties in America such as Montgomery Co. and Marin Co. have some of the best used library systems. Most of these systems are well used even when someone can't drink their latte and talk on a cell phone while inside. And of course, in poor rural areas as well as inner cities, libraries perform a service that cannot be matched anywhere else.
The big thing that is missing here is that libraries are nothing without good librarians and that is why the Internet, while a fantastic resource, is limited in much the same way as a warehouse of books is limited. Librarians are needed in libraries and on the Internet. Some sites, such as lii.org and ipl.org are vetted by librarians and these are a great research tool for students and the general public looking for information that is accurate and safe. Recent studies have shown that most Internet users are not all that savvy when it comes to doing research and can't tell a legitimate site from one that is just a come on for a product. This includes most college students who arrive at universities with little knowledge of how the Internet works and how to do research. Many students manage to get through college without these skills and manage to get cushy jobs out there in the "real world." Some of these people may become Presidents or even writers, but this is not a good thing.

Posted by: Patrick | June 22, 2007 9:10 PM

I think this article is an excellent example of why libraries are so important. This article contains no research but is full of tired clichés, stereotypes and personal anecdotes. If the author did just a small amount of research, he would find that library usage is up, not down, that circulation has increased:
http://www.ala.org/ala/alalibrary/libraryfactsheet/alalibraryfactsheet6.cfm
I have no doubt at all that many well paid writers, doctors, lawyers, etc., simply visit bookstores or Starbucks to fulfill the needs that may have once been met at the library, but even the wealthy visit libraries. In fact it is typical that the wealthiest counties in America such as Montgomery Co. and Marin Co. have some of the best used library systems. Most of these systems are well used even when someone can't drink their latte and talk on a cell phone while inside. And of course, in poor rural areas as well as inner cities, libraries perform a service that cannot be matched anywhere else.
The big thing that is missing here is that libraries are nothing without good librarians and that is why the Internet, while a fantastic resource, is limited in much the same way as a warehouse of books is limited. Librarians are needed in libraries and on the Internet. Some sites, such as lii.org and ipl.org are vetted by librarians and these are a great research tool for students and the general public looking for information that is accurate and safe. Recent studies have shown that most Internet users are not all that savvy when it comes to doing research and can't tell a legitimate site from one that is just a come on for a product. This includes most college students who arrive at universities with little knowledge of how the Internet works and how to do research. Many students manage to get through college without these skills and manage to get cushy jobs out there in the "real world." Some of these people may become Presidents or even writers, but this is not a good thing.

Posted by: Patrick | June 22, 2007 9:11 PM

I think this article is an excellent example of why libraries are so important. This article contains no research but is full of tired clichés, stereotypes and personal anecdotes. If the author did just a small amount of research, he would find that library usage is up, not down, that circulation has increased:
http://www.ala.org/ala/alalibrary/libraryfactsheet/alalibraryfactsheet6.cfm
I have no doubt at all that many well paid writers, doctors, lawyers, etc., simply visit bookstores or Starbucks to fulfill the needs that may have once been met at the library, but even the wealthy visit libraries. In fact it is typical that the wealthiest counties in America such as Montgomery Co. and Marin Co. have some of the best used library systems. Most of these systems are well used even when someone can't drink their latte and talk on a cell phone while inside. And of course, in poor rural areas as well as inner cities, libraries perform a service that cannot be matched anywhere else.
The big thing that is missing here is that libraries are nothing without good librarians and that is why the Internet, while a fantastic resource, is limited in much the same way as a warehouse of books is limited. Librarians are needed in libraries and on the Internet. Some sites, such as lii.org and ipl.org are vetted by librarians and these are a great research tool for students and the general public looking for information that is accurate and safe. Recent studies have shown that most Internet users are not all that savvy when it comes to doing research and can't tell a legitimate site from one that is just a come on for a product. This includes most college students who arrive at universities with little knowledge of how the Internet works and how to do research. Many students manage to get through college without these skills and manage to get cushy jobs out there in the "real world." Some of these people may become Presidents or even writers, but this is not a good thing.

Posted by: Patrick | June 22, 2007 9:12 PM

I think this article is an excellent example of why libraries are so important. This article contains no research but is full of tired clichés, stereotypes and personal anecdotes. If the author did just a small amount of research, he would find that library usage is up, not down, that circulation has increased:
http://www.ala.org/ala/alalibrary/libraryfactsheet/alalibraryfactsheet6.cfm
I have no doubt at all that many well paid writers, doctors, lawyers, etc., simply visit bookstores or Starbucks to fulfill the needs that may have once been met at the library, but even the wealthy visit libraries. In fact it is typical that the wealthiest counties in America such as Montgomery Co. and Marin Co. have some of the best used library systems. Most of these systems are well used even when someone can't drink their latte and talk on a cell phone while inside. And of course, in poor rural areas as well as inner cities, libraries perform a service that cannot be matched anywhere else.
The big thing that is missing here is that libraries are nothing without good librarians and that is why the Internet, while a fantastic resource, is limited in much the same way as a warehouse of books is limited. Librarians are needed in libraries and on the Internet. Some sites, such as lii.org and ipl.org are vetted by librarians and these are a great research tool for students and the general public looking for information that is accurate and safe. Recent studies have shown that most Internet users are not all that savvy when it comes to doing research and can't tell a legitimate site from one that is just a come on for a product. This includes most college students who arrive at universities with little knowledge of how the Internet works and how to do research. Many students manage to get through college without these skills and manage to get cushy jobs out there in the "real world." Some of these people may become Presidents or even writers, but this is not a good thing.

Posted by: Patrick | June 22, 2007 9:17 PM

I fully support a free library. I'm an eclectic reader. Our library aesthetically displays new books. Thus, I pick a wide variety of both fiction and nonfiction books due to this. I'm still learning even in my 40's. Hopefully, this access will help me to grow both intellectually and emotionally and thus be a better citizen of my community. I have high praise for my library system. I wish you could enjoy it too.

Posted by: Someone still learning | June 22, 2007 9:51 PM

Our libraries, whether in Arlington or DC or London or Seattle, are a reflection of the values we place on who we are as a people, a nation. If you think libraries are irrelevant in today's culture, explain why, in times of war, they are prioritized targets of destruction. A case in point is the National Library of Bosnia in Sarajevo, specifically targeted by the Serbs. Why? Because it was the seat of culture, the historian of its peoples, a storehouse of national heritage. Irreplaceable volumes and history were lost. Good luck buying them at B&N.

Posted by: AnotherLibrarian | June 22, 2007 10:06 PM

I remember the first time I entered the stacks at the Catholic University Mullen Library. I was in grade school at the time. That was such a cool place, like the catacombs of knowledge. Later on in life, my future wife were studying hard late one night and took a break to make out in those very same stacks!

Ahhh, the library.

Posted by: johng | June 22, 2007 10:17 PM

Oh yea, my wife, now a Madame Librarrrrrrian, was at that conference today. She says librarians perform a vital function of identifying and cataloging resources, whether they are books, periodicals, papers etc. Maybe the usefulness of reference librarians is on the wane, but catalogers remain king!

Librarians Rule! Shhhhhhhhhhhh

Posted by: johng | June 22, 2007 10:48 PM

What a question! There are so many reasons that we need libraries! The fact that this question is even presented is frightening. Libraries are what spark interests, the search for books leading to other references, the quiet, safe haven that a library offers for one to just sit and read and be quiet, the resourcefulness of librarians who stop at nothing to answer questions, not to mention the actual books, that could literally bring you to your knees for their well-worn pages, the the oversized photos, the character-ness of the books themselves. A library is a place where there are no bounds, as trite as that sounds. The books are free, the reading space is free, the help is free, and the visitors feel blessed and happy to be there. The Internet is a tool but absolutely NO replacement for a library, not by any stretch of the imagination. A library is like a long-lost friend that is full of experiences and surprises, and most of all, possibilities.

Posted by: Joan Harlin | June 22, 2007 11:52 PM

As afterthoughts, I am reminded of the years I spent learning how to do research of a topic in a library - something that involved a lot of footwork but resulted in a finished product that has to be way more satisfying than scouring the Internet. We all had that experience, and learned tangentially, about other subjects or little know facts, along the way. And, then there is the discovery of authors just from milling through the book shelves, something that you cannot gain from the Internet - seeing titles that catch your eye. There are so many obvious and subtle advantages to preserving libraries at any cost. I don't think turning them into eateries or Starbucks is a good idea, though - I think the library materials deserve better respect and that librarians need to stand their ground, and stop catering to the whims of what people want. If you cannot stop eating or drinking long enough to visit a library, then you should just stay in the food court.

Posted by: Joan Harlin | June 23, 2007 12:11 AM

YES, we need libraries. Some library systems are better than others. Arlington is MUCH better than Fairfax or Falls Church libraries. As a mom I learned to depend on the library as a source of books, movies, entertainment and social interaction. The library is more of a 'town center' than any park or mall in my neighborhood. It's the extra's that make today's library precious to families like ours. It promotes reading and love of books for kids. The libraries support the arts too.

I used to think that someday all books would be online and no one would need the library. But families need the library now more than ever!

Posted by: Anon | June 23, 2007 6:26 AM

Obviously, your column's point was to bait commenters to post how much they love their library. What did your Post's librarians have to say about it?

If this is really what you think... that's too bad. Maybe you should ask your librarians how to find information other than Google... the Post is paying lots of money for databases that are supposed to make blogs and articles like this a little bit more substantial with facts.

Posted by: aquarian librarian | June 23, 2007 7:47 AM

I definitely agree with the posted comments: the library allows access to books and the internet for those who cannot afford to stock up at Borders or even buy a home computer. However, as librarians' roles become more and more based in helping to provide internet access and close the digital divide, cities need to step up and provide the funding and the training needed to help libraries provide these services in a quality fashion.

Consider the following scenarios that are all too common in today's public library, but woefully underfunded by cities or counties:

Around tax time patrons expect librarians at public libraries which offer computer access to become tax experts and help them e-file.

When immigrants move to the area, the public librarians are the ones who shoulder the responsibility to help them learn English, help them connect with basic city and county services, and help them learn the culture of their new home.

In the case of an area disaster, libraries are often the location chosen by first responders to set up a base of operations to coordinate National Guard, Red Cross, and FEMA assistance. This was the case in MS, LA, and TX, during Katrina and Rita.

Libraries become de facto employment agencies for the homeless who want to find a job. They visit the library to read up on the world, learn new and marketable skills, and look for job postings on the internet and in the paper.

Yes, digital information is now available on the internet for research, but who would step up and offer these vital community services, if not the library?

Posted by: Erin | June 23, 2007 7:54 AM

Sure, close libraries and further disenfranchise the poor. A good friend of mine was homeless for five or six years, but got information and kept in touch with friends and family using the library's computer. I doubt my friend ever went near Borders during that time. Not much reason to when you look like a street person and have no money. But the library serves you anyway.

Posted by: jjc1 | June 23, 2007 8:27 AM

first- homeless and mentally ill people need services that the so-called "values voters" do not want to provide. If this were the case, people wouldn't have to be squeamish about going to the library to be around "those people."

The lack of civic responsibility in this nation is astounding. Most especially among those who claim some moral high ground.

I and my friends used libraries as an activity source for our children when they were pre-schoolers. We still check out videos, cds and books and read magazines that we would never buy anyway. We can find good books that are not marketed by publishers and stuck in our faces at Borders. Books that are out-of-print are sometimes found only in libraries.

As far as computer use, libraries pay for subscriptions to reference sources that are not available on the web via an isp alone. This is the "hidden web." These sources are useful for children who are writing papers for school, or for parents who are looking for information.

I am really disgusted by those who have a fevered, nearly religious belief in the value of privitization of everything. The idea that everything done privately is more efficient is a myth. Go to your library to get the data on that. The atomization of public life is dangerous for the idea as well as the practice of democracy.

Posted by: reality-based | June 23, 2007 9:14 AM

Back in the early 1960s we lived in a rowhouse in Falls Church that was not airconditioned. During the summer, I was instructed by my Mother to walk to the airconditioned library at 12:00 noon and stay until 3:00pm. I would find a book and sit in a corner of the library and read. This was the start of my love for reading. To me it is a treat to go to the library and look at the different research books and select novels to take home. Of course, librarys are necessary. Not everyone has a computer at home. I plan to take my grandson to the library as soon as he is old enough to respect paper books. Right now he just want to eat them (9 months old). Please do not take away our librarys!

Posted by: Chris in VA | June 23, 2007 9:32 AM

A lot of people here are complaining about libraries having a lot of popular materials.

Lemme tell you something. Branch libraries, and community libraries, are *supposed* to be the hubs for popular materials. They serve as community centers. A family can come in to do research for one kid's project, and see that they can borrow a movie for the whole family, get a CD for their teenager, get several books for their fifth grade reader, and come back in three days for storytime for their 18-month-old child. Each of these things will get patrons to come in the door, and want to come back. And each of these things will encourage the kids in that family to continue to use the library in the future... whether for fun summer reading, or for school projects. They'll learn to use libraries and librarians as reference sources and entertainment sources as they grow older.

The goal is to educate and inform those patrons while they're at the branch. Did they know that they can pick up tax forms there? Take a class on stock market research? Sign up for home internet access of a genealogy database that the library subscribes to? Request books for the teenager's social studies project via interlibrary loan from one of the bigger and more academic branches?

My library has one large downtown building and two smaller branches. The branches do indeed house the popular stuff. But I can do an online search, request a dozen books, and pick all of them up from my community branch-- which I can *walk* to!

Posted by: Kate the Short | June 23, 2007 9:59 AM

Adunn, commented yesterday, "My hometown in New England has a trailer set up at the town dump. Residents can leave used books there or take books at no cost. It's free and doesn't cost a nickel to users or taxpayers"

I'm oddly curious about this trailer. Does this trailer sit on city land for "free"? Are there lights in the trailer -- how are they paid? I'm also guessing the town has liablility insurance since it sits on city land. I imagine the parking is "free" on city land as well.

Don't get me wrong, I think the trailer is a great idea and a great way to recycle books for more readers. As a library employee I think more people should be aware that very few things are really "free" -- libraries included.

Posted by: VAgirl | June 23, 2007 10:56 AM

I don't know what I'd do without libraries. I don't buy books because - living in a city - I have run out of places to put books. So unless it is a book I know I'll read again and again, or refer to a lot, I will usually check it out of a library. I have not been to the central library in a while, but I used to go all the time. The Mt Pleasant and West End libraries are most convenient for me, but the lack of Sunday hours is a pain. Also, they have doubled the library late fees. Not very sociable. But, this is Washington.

Libraries need to revive, that is for sure. But public private partnerships? don't get me started. In a city as unstable and transient as Washington, such proposals just lead to really quick profit for a few, and continue to degrade the public aspect of whatever was public to begin with. Horrible idea in Washington, DC. P-P partnerships should be about private entities helping public ones, if there are to be any at all. Libraries CAN revive, it just takes time and commitment, that is all.

As for this silly question, it is typical of Marc. He wants density in your neighborhood, their neighborhood, every place but HIS neighborhood. He has favored the privatization of public property a lot (despite his recent protesting article). Low and middle income people need libraries.

Posted by: bid | June 23, 2007 11:54 AM

If, between my husband and I, we had to buy each and every item we get from our library systems each MONTH, we would be spending at least $1,000 per month. Plus we have access to every item out of print, etc, through Inter Library Loan. We can put things on hold from other library systems as well. Sure, some things are digitized, but libraries are completely relevent. Have you looked at the ways libraries can serve their communities, too? Our library has all sorts of programs and social outlets. Lots of libraries are offering ways to keep people coming back, especially teens - a hard population to draw in. Some libraries are having events like Food Fear Factor, Anime Clubs, and computer-related programs. It may be hard to believe, but a lot of kids and teens do not have computer access at home! It's either school and/or their public library. We are not all so rich that we can just go to a bookstore and indulge. In fact, a lot of bookstores do not seem to encourage kids to hang out there. This is more possible at libraries.
At our libraries, they work hard to try to get new books, dvds, music, etc. I

Posted by: libraryaddicted | June 23, 2007 1:10 PM

I'm a volunteer in the adult literacy program. Most of our tutors use a public library as a meeting place. They provide a valuable public service.

Also, libraries offer Summer reading programs for kids to encourage them to keep reading through the vacation months. These type activities are usually partially sponsored by Friends of the Library groups.

The auditorium is used throughout the year for public meetings.

I order a lot of books through Amazon but first I ALWAYS check and see if I can get it through the library.

I have a will, have no children, and the local library will be getting a considerable sum upon my death as my way of saying "thank you."

Posted by: SwissMiss150 | June 23, 2007 6:34 PM

Do we need libraries anymore? Do we need schools anymore? Do we need knowledge anymore? Do we need to think anymore? SAME ANSWERS!
http://www.dcindependents.org/#SavingMartinLutherKingJrMemorialLibraryWashingtonDC

Posted by: Go Figure! | June 23, 2007 11:53 PM

Libraries will always be part of the fabric of society. It is the original social networking site, as compared to the virtual networking world on the Internet.
People need a physical place to keep them grounded--this is the library.
I agree with most of the other posts about libraries being as important in this digital age as they have been historically--probably more so as has been pointed out.
Thanks for the great topic of discussion.

Posted by: A | June 25, 2007 9:15 AM

Bookstores are great -- I spend an inordinate amount of money in them. But they tend to carry what will sell -- which makes sense, given that they are businesses. But what if I'm doing research on something that isn't profitable, and I don't have the funds to travel around to university special collections? Libraries don't collect with an eye to profit, but an eye to value (which aren't the same thing), so I'm much more likely to find what I need there. And if the library doesn't have it, Interlibrary Loan has me covered. What if I need access to historical news sources? Between microfiche and pay databases that I could never hope to afford on my own, I can easily get the information I need. And what if I know I need information, but I don't even know where to start looking? I go to the reference desk where the librarian can help me.

Moreover, the organization of libraries is indispensable. Bookstores are a step up from a big, jumbled pile of books, but their organization is loose -- and not necessarily all that accurate. (case in point: I found a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in the automotive section of my B&N just yesterday -- and the girl at the customer service counter just kept saying that "that is where my sheet says it belongs").

If you want real organization, real service and people who really know what they're talking about, in general you should go to a library. If you want to buy a book, go to a bookstore. At heart, they are different institutions with different services and different priorities.

Posted by: Anne | June 25, 2007 12:30 PM

Moreover, this comic strip has a good point: http://www.unshelved.com/archive.aspx?strip=20070625

Maybe at some point, everything will be on the internet, but it sure isn't all there now!

Posted by: http://www.unshelved.com/archive.aspx?strip=20070625 | June 25, 2007 1:50 PM

What a lazy approach to the topic of libraries! You could have introduced your column with a solid discussion of the many positive aspects of libraries, instead of tossing off a few highly generalized and downright elitist statements that focused on the problems facing these institutions.
You'll excuse my annoyed tone, but it has become a very tiresome routine for those in librarianship to constantly defend our educations, our professions, our collections, and our facilities, especially to those subscribing to the, "everybody has internet, everybody prefers bookstores" mindset. Coming from somebody in the newspaper field, another industry that has struggled with maintaining relevance in this day and age, I expected much better. Perhaps you should contact a librarian at your local public library, or even a librarian at the Washington Post, to gain a little insight into this complex issue.

Posted by: annoyed librarian | June 25, 2007 3:49 PM

I like bookstores but I LOVE libraries. Where else can I get popular fiction and classic books for FREE? I can sit in a comfy chair and read with no rush to move on. I can use a computer and surf the net. I can look up newspapers and magazines. I can (and do) have great conversation with the library workers and get good recommendations for additional reading.Books have saved my sanity more than once during difficult times and have educated me more than my public school ever did.Libraries are the best, leanest use of taxpayer money known to our society and give the most back.

Posted by: Elisabeth | June 25, 2007 4:24 PM

If we do away with libraries, we better do away with newspapers as well.

Posted by: Coleman | June 25, 2007 5:02 PM

"If information is the currency of democracy, then libraries are the banks."
Wendell Ford

Where else but in a library do you find such a wide range of opinions as well as information. In the 1950s under the McCarthy era, Robert B. Downs (President of ALA) fought him from trying to censor what libraries kept in their stacks. Today most public libraries still have the diversity on their shelves. Can you go to your local church to learn about other religions (or trust what you learn there)? During an election can you go to one party's local headquarters to learn about the other candidates? The library is one of the last bastions of free education.

Does the local bookstore carry a large collection of foreign language books that reflect the demographics of your community? Does it carry the reference books that cost hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars, and if they do, can you afford it? Does it carry the book that has been out of print for several years that you happen to need? The library does (or can get it for you).

To Mr. Fisher. Do you and your colleagues do fact checking? If so, how much would it cost if you had to pay for it out of your own pocket? If you only had two choices, the internet and the library, which would you chose?

Libraries. We aren't for sissies and whiners. We are for people trying to be good citizens exercising their right to use the fruits of the First Ammendent.

Posted by: V.Golden | June 26, 2007 4:48 PM

I am a branch librarian in VERY rural Bath County, VA, and unlike big cities like NY and DC, there IS no B&N or Borders within a 2-hour drive. Our library, located in the county-seat of a county with a population around 5,000, is the hub of our community. We have book clubs, after-prom committee meetings, meditation classes, author programs, summer reading club activities for the kids, book sales, and on, and on. We have several public access Internet computers which are always busy. We are the first place most of tourists
and new-comers visit to find out what's happening--and to check their e-mail! In Bath County, VA, the public library is a vital part of the community.

Posted by: J. B. Robinson | June 26, 2007 5:02 PM

Victor Hugo said "A library implies and act of faith." I take this statement to heart every day and believe deeply that Mr. Hugo was absolutely right.

If our government does not demonstrate faith in society through the provision of libraries, then how can we as a society function? Our democracy requires an informed citizenry. That doesn't happen without public investment... in schools, in open government, and in libraries.

In DC none of these things work quite right. Our schools are failing; our government operates in secret (if at all); but it is our libraries that are actually making small improvements. DC can only adequately govern itself if these tenents work and work together to education, inform, and empower residents.

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Posted by: eozpnsg txkl | June 27, 2007 6:59 PM

Of course we need libraries, for all of the reasons listed above and for many more. I grew up unable to buy all of the books I wanted, so I went to the library, and as an adult with a professional library position, I still don't make enough money to feed my book habit. My sister can't afford internet, so she goes to the library. When I travel, my first visit is the library to find out what to do and see, I don't want to buy a travel book for a place I will only visit once. I worked in a small branch of a large public library system and maybe 10% of my patrons could actually afford all of the services, programs, and assistance given by the library FOR FREE. I keep hearing that every house has a computer, well I am not sure where that statistic is coming from because 90% of my patrons didn't have computers in the house. And, if they did, they definately didn't have the internet. I hope that people who say libraries aren't needed go visit your local library, things are changing and will continue to change. GO LIBRARIES!

Posted by: librarygirl70 | June 27, 2007 9:44 PM

If Fisher and others think that libraries are buildings that house books then apparently libraries are not doing well to promote what they are today. Libraries are providers of access to information. Libraries pay to allow such access. Librarians mediate and guide users in accessing information. Whether they exist physically or online, libraries offer information that is not free through the resources of the Internet. Academic research is not necessarily valid through use of web site information, but through access to the formal information of a profession. Access to such information is rarely free, but often provided by libraries. Libraries and librarians understand this role that they continue to play, and they are continually delivering their services in new and relevant ways. Perhaps this message needs to be better conveyed.

Posted by: SKB | June 29, 2007 4:37 PM

Mr. Fisher, I recommend that you do some research (either at your local library or via your personal computer, whichever you choose). Specifically, explore some of the Census data regarding how many Americans have reliable, affordable access to the internet--as well as functioning equipment to make use of that access--and how many Americans live in neighborhoods and towns that don't even have a decent grocery store, let alone a Borders-type bookstore. You've done all your readers a disservice by commenting from a postion of sheltered ignorance. Take some vacation time and go on a road trip to see what life looks like outside of DC.

Posted by: H | June 29, 2007 5:14 PM

"Most schoolkids are more eager to go to Borders or B&N than to visit local libraries that can seem musty and decrepit."

I practically grew up in my library. My mother had been going to it even before I was born. I visited it every three weeks to return books and get new ones. The library was torn down and rebuilt, but the same people still work there. Now food is allowed and there is a coffeeshop within the library. I go there on Saturday mornings to pick up books, drink chai, and do homework. I'm that kid who always has at least thirty books checked out, and is probably reading most of them at once.

I only visit B&N when there is a specific book I want: one that I have already borrowed from the library and want to own, or one that the library doesn't have. I don't have the funds to buy all the books I want to read-- I have probably read over a thousand books by now. I know I read around 60 a year, which is only slightly fewer than the number I read before I bought a computer.

As for research, the internet is a great tool-- but it's not as trustworthy as a book. Even books aren't always trustworthy, but you can check them against each other and also find out the credentials of the writer. And unlike a website, once a book is printed, the content can't be changed or deleted by whoever has access to it.

Posted by: Kat | June 29, 2007 5:29 PM

It seems to me that people often look at and talk about libraries in a very fuzzy kind of way. They always talk about how they would visit the library as children, and how nice the librarian was. As a life-long fan of the library (so much of a fan, in fact, that I went to library school and now have my MLS!), I really do have a concrete sense of the many functions of the library in society. As prominent as computers have become, having a presence in almost every home, there is still a huge number of households in low-income areas that either can't afford or just don't have internet access in their homes. For those who struggle to put food on the table, buying a book may seem like a trivial expense, but the public library offers them the chance to experience literature (in both the classic and popular culture formats) for free. By providing the public with a 100% free form of entertainment and education (which leads to enlightenment), the institution of the library serves a major and vital function in modern society.

Posted by: Brian The Librarian | June 30, 2007 12:56 PM

I recently heard of several college graduates boasting they got their degrees without stepping foot in a library. Without going into the knee-jerk, immediate questions raised from their boasts (i.e., what kind of degree did you earn where you could circumvent deep research into scholarly journals that are NOT freely accessible on the Internet, or, why did your professors not require such research?), I then discovered they used Google regularly while researching in their dorm rooms and at home. The point here is not to debate the quality of a degree received based upon the use or non-use of the library, but to highlight how the library enters into a Internet search query.

While free journals and articles are available on the Internet, the bulk of scholarly research still resides in print and electronic collections for which libraries pay big bucks (funded by college tuition and higher ed. funding, or through tax dollars). With many libraries on the cutting edge of technology, more and more library users are discovering that their Google search is taking them to their local or college libraries' databases for the articles and information they seek ( http://scholar.google.com/scholar/libraries.html).
Through Google's program, one can use Google for one's research and be accessing his or her library's resources without being aware of it--unless, perhaps, they are tech-savvy, a seasoned researcher, or especially a librarian who knows that technology (configured by librarians and IT staff) can link the two.

In short, when using the Internet for research, can we truly say we are not using the library? I know better, as a grad student and as a technology librarian. The students who boasted they got their degrees by googling their way through school likely used their library on many occasions from the comfort of their dorm room or home. As a grad student, I bless this kind of information and resources access. As a librarian, I consider that scenario to be an excellent example of how libraries have morphed with the times and, in fact, taken the leading role in offering the technology to make access to the library easier than ever--so easy, that users are, unfortunately, unaware they are using library services they pay for. The library is still going strong. Take the time to discover just how your library, public or academic, is impacting your life. It's more than you think!

Posted by: GradStudent and... | June 30, 2007 12:58 PM

I can see why some people predict the end of physical libraries, as more and more information is available online (never mind for now that libraries promote this online info and help people find it).

The strange thing is, though, that since the advent of the Internet, library use has INCREASED across North America!* So what's going on? Are people more literate because they're immersed in online culture?

*http://www.libraryndp.info/

Posted by: questions, questions | June 30, 2007 3:29 PM

Have the people who insist that libraries should be funded as school libraries only been into many school libraries lately?

In most states school libraries are funded or not at the local level, so the quality and the very existence of a school library is in the hands of individual school principals or the district superintendent. The quality and currency of school libraries varies greatly, especially in this era where passing standardized tests is the focus of students, teachers, and principals.

Many school libraries are barely funded to support the current curriculum or not at all. Staffing of these libraries is not consistent. There are school librarians who are in charge of 5 schools' libraries or more.

If the people who advocate school libraries as the only appropriate type of library to be supported with public funds knew what a gargantuan expenditure of public money it would take to make school libraries serve the function they envision without the cooperation of public libraries (which are often full of school children after school and evenings when the school library is not accessible and which sometimes provide the automation systems for the local school libraries), they would quickly see that the public library, which can serve and support a number of school populations is real bargain.

I would also recommend that the why-do-we-have-to-pay-for-it commenters, including columnist Fisher, take a close look at how carefully most public libraries are administered and what an enormous amount of service they provide for a very, very small portion of local public expenditures, minimal--or no--state funds, and very, very little federal funding, and they would see that public libraries are an incredible deal for the individual taxpayer and the community. Please check with your municipal clerk or OMB and find out what you actually are paying for local library service before you decry the expenditure. You will likely be surprised at what a minuscule portion of your hard-earned funds go for one of the few services that is open to everyone in the community, whether they choose to use it often, occasionally, rarely, or never.

I realize that if you do not support public education whether K-12 or of the life-long learning variety, my argument will not appeal, but in fact in local surveys, public libraries are one of the most popular services that a city or town provides, even amongst people who are not regular library users. Every bond issue for a public library does not pass, but over and over people affirm that there is a value to having a public library even in our web-connected world.

Posted by: A School Librarian | June 30, 2007 5:28 PM

For background purposes, I love books and love to read and I love the internet. Yes, I have a home computer with highspeed access and could afford to buy new books. I do buy books, new and used. I also check many out from the library. I also rent movies from Blockbuster as well as the library. I use the computers at the library too. I use many of the databases the library subscribes to.

I wouldn't have access to this information without paying hundreds of dollars a year. The measly amount of my tax dollars that actually go to the library is miniscule in comparison. Think of how much you pay in tax. Think of all the city/county departments: police, fire, parks, streets, schools, electric, water, trash services, animal control, zoning and planning, etc. Tax dollars are split between all those departments. As an example, if you pay 500 dollars in taxes, the library might receive 10 percent of that. 50 bucks a year or less for everything a library provides. Heck of a deal.

Let's be clear on one point: Not everything is on the internet. Of the top of my head I can think of lots of genealogical research that i've had to comb through that was not digitized: old mircofilms, old papers, letters, photographs, family and city histories, cemetery listings and gravesites.

Someday, maybe "everything" will be on the internet. But how much of that information will be free? Or will people have to subscribe to multitudes of databases to access this information? Libraries provide, with tax dollars, access to such information. Guess what, everyone pays taxes, even library staff. Maybe you're not happy with tax dollars going to buy the latest bestseller, but other people are. Maybe others aren't happy about the latest street improvement project or new park equipment being purchased, but you're all for that. You can't please everyone all the time. The governments are doing their best to provide for the communities in a variety of ways.

Posted by: booklover | July 3, 2007 12:23 AM

Libraries will be around for a long time in my opinion because the cost of digitizing the books in one large library branch is too astronomical at this point in time for states and countries to afford. And a lot of book and magazine publishers won't allow their items to be digitized. I've found that some digital editions of magazines don't go back that far or don't have the current year.

The libraries in my area provide DVDs, CDs, ESL classes, concerts, meditation classes... and all sorts of other free events. I've found that a lot of people in college turn to the library to find out how to search for credible info. on the 'net.

Posted by: Jessica | July 5, 2007 9:19 AM

"At-risk kids" are using the library as well as other kids. It may not have been "cool" for the teens and tweens even 10-years ago but now, more than ever it seems, there is a need for kids (at risk or not) to have a place to go after school or otherwise during the day when guardians may not be in the home.

It's absurd to think that libraries are unnecessary because the internet provides people with more information at their fingertips. Access issues aside, as a librarian, I am frequently assisting patrons using Google. GOOGLE! Not even fancy schmancy high-tech, high-cost databases! The internet might be easy for some people to fathom but there are many who struggle. Having a librarian or otherwise library staffer available to help people FOR FREE is a no-brainer. Imagine if those same struggling people HAD TO pay someone to help them do the same thing.

That thought leaves me a bit uneasy.

Posted by: Emily | July 5, 2007 7:36 PM

As a twenty-something librarian, I clearly think libraries are not only still relevant but extremely important, or I wouldn't have chosen this field.

I was home educated from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Every Wednesday after piano lessons, we went to the local public library for an hour to two hours. My mother would bring home a stack of ten to twenty books on countries of the world, plants, animals, whatever we happened to be studying that week. My sister and I would bring home 10-20 books including everything from classic literature to the less classic, but still fun, Nancy Drew mysteries. As a child who had no allowance, there is no way I would have had the opportunity to read as widely as I did had I not had access to the public library. Despite the fact that I could and did borrow books from friends, not having access to a public library would have cramped my reading despite the fact that I grew up in a fairly typical middle class family who certainly does not fall into a category of 'have nots'. Had I grown up in a family where there was a monthly struggle to pay the rent and put food on the table no public library would have no doubt made reading widely quite difficult.

When I went to college, I continued to use both the college library and the public library for my student teaching. When I went to graduate school I used not only the University library, but the consortium that connected me to the higher education libraries in that state. When I graduated, I worked part time in a public library and brought home books on everything from how to knit to genetic studies and I continued to learn from books that I would not have bought had I gone to a Barnes & Noble or a Borders. Reading those books cost me nothing, whereas a three credit hour class on human genetics or signing up for a class in knitting would have cost me quite a bit more! It is not unusual for me to have a mix of non-fiction and fiction including literary classics and this week's New York Times best sellers equaling a stack of fifteen to twenty books at any given time.

Where I grew up, the property taxes that went to our library were so low that we figured if each member of our family read one hardcover book from the library a year, we would have broke even. For our family, it was likely to be that much per week! I have an interest in children's books, and children's books - particularly children's picture books are expensive, even when they are used.

I'm a huge fan of used bookstores, I lend my personal book collection to friends, and I donate books to school libraries and public libraries, but I find it difficult to live in the town I currently live in that has NO public library. As a librarian at an academic library, I have access to a large amount of scholarly information that I make use of, but I miss the public library atmosphere, and more than that I feel badly for the children in this town who will not have the opportunity to spend hours in a library and read dozens of books as I did.

A good public library will support lifelong learning for those who can afford it and those who can't. And are all those bestsellers and romance novels worthless? I tend to think all work and no play makes Jack a dull monkey.

And as for everything being available on the Internet - I'm an Internet addict, but I won't give up my books. And beyond the fact that many people have no access to computers or the internet, it's often very hard to find the information that exists there. I help students weekly that have spent two hours searching Google only to come ask me for help and I can find what they need within ten to twenty minutes of searching - That's the value of an information professional.

A democratic government works only so long as people are educated because only then are they able to look at the issues they must vote on and vote in a way that is reasonable and makes sense. I believe public libraries are an essential part of the fabric of democracy, without them you risk an uninformed, illiterate, and uneducated populace.

Posted by: Sabrina | July 6, 2007 2:08 PM

I have worked in public libraries for 20 years and have heard all the extinction rumors. I can say, without fear of contradiction, that they are busier than ever. Everywhere I have worked, from St. Louis to Amish country, libraries were swarming. Use of my current library has doubled since 1995. If one group out there is actively trying to put libraries out of business, it is government. They are doing it by cutting funding to the bone in spite of the incredible value their constituents receive for a very modest tax investment.

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