A lot has changed at your local library

In case you haven’t heard, the library has plans for a building project that will be put before the voters in just a few months. With that in mind, I thought it apropos to talk about the need for libraries in the age of Google.

“Libraries are going away because everything is online now.” I hear some variation of this statement every once and again and I try my utmost to keep the ensuing scream of frustration contained to my “inside voice.” Where to start?

1. Libraries are not just books. Maybe they were in 1915 but certainly not in 2015. There are DVDs, CDs, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks, local history collections. There are online resources to become fluent in the language of your choice; research family history, business, stock and investment information; view newspaper archives; perform research for homework, reports or even prep for your next book club meeting. There are thousands of e-books and downloadable audiobooks. There are educational and recreational programs for all ages. There are book clubs galore, a language club, a writer’s club, a knitting club. Clubs for “Doctor Who” fans, anime lovers and stamp collectors. There are rooms for community groups to meet. Space to talk shop or catch up with friends and neighbors where you don’t feel compelled to buy something. There are trained staff to help you find answers and information you need. Oh – and we have a very cool 3-D printer you can use too.

2. Just because you have a computer or the latest Kindle/iPad/Nook and know enough to be dangerous, doesn’t mean everyone does. You would be amazed by how many people come in for help on how to get an email account (yes, really), how to surf the web (I’m not kidding), how to fill out an online job application, how to download a book, how to troubleshoot a device. In the business, we call it the “digital divide.” Part of that divide can be attributed to money, part of it to education, part of it to age. As an example: the average senior citizen will never be as comfortable with technology as the average elementary school student is.

3. Just because you can afford internet access doesn’t mean everyone can – because many can’t. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck and have trouble keeping food on the table, internet access – let alone purchasing tablets or ebooks – becomes a luxury.

4. The internet doesn’t replace libraries; it complements them. The web is a great place to look up quick facts, scan what’s out there on a particular topic or get the gist of an issue. Anyone, however, can slap up a web page on any topic at any time. There are actual businesses out there whose job it is to make sure certain pages come up first in a list of search results – because we all know the first page of results has the most relevant information, right? Just because something’s on the internet doesn’t make it valid, doesn’t mean it’s unbiased, and doesn’t mean it comes from a legitimate or authoritative source – or one trying to sell you a product. Furthermore, I realize it’s an astonishing fact in this day and age of digitizing content but: not everything is on the internet. Journalist Alex Beam illustrated this beautifully in a recent piece for the Boston Globe: “By some estimates, over 80 percent of Web content disappears in a year. The Internet forgets easily, and forgets a lot. Moreover, it doesn’t much care what it forgets…. When a newspaper or magazine goes out of business, its information, and its web links, are often consigned to oblivion. When your cousin stops paying for web hosting, her precious Internet posts cease to exist.”

5. There’s a reason printed books have been around since the 15th century. Publishing and printing methods have evolved through the centuries and formats have morphed to include the digital book, but the use of physical books continues. Earlier this year the Pew Research Center published “10 Facts about Americans and Public Libraries.” At the top of the list appeared the following: “E-book reading is growing, but printed books still dominate the reading world. 28 percent of American adults ages 18 and older read an e-book in the past year, up from 17 percent in 2011. Still, 69 percent read a printed book, about the same as last year. Only 4 percent of readers are “e-book only” readers. The vast majority of e-book readers also read a printed book.” A physical book doesn’t get viruses, doesn’t have compatibility issues, and doesn’t need to be charged. I’m being realistic when I say that some readers will just never be comfortable with the rapid-fire change of change of technology or even the very act of reading on a screen. Others enjoy the convenience of reading on a device but still prefer to hold a physical book and turn its pages – I happily count my 8 year old nephew among them.

6. Libraries have been around even longer than books. While the concept of a book was still a few thousand years away, the earliest libraries functioned as a special collection or archive of tablets (ahem: the clay kind) filled with the writings of scholars. The time frame? About 2500BC. Here we are more than 4000 years later and libraries are still around because they have evolved to meet the needs of their communities.

7. Lastly, for those who might consider a career in librarianship: the world is your oyster. It used to be that library schools only offered specializations in school media or archives and records management. The pool has widened to include specializations in information architecture, medical informatics, human computer interaction, social computing, user experience design (think gaming), web design, or data engineering. Or you could just work at a public library. Because they aren’t going away any time soon.