Already facing tight budgets, public libraries are also
contending with a cultural shift from traditional stacks of books to
digital devices. But far from fighting the digital revolution,
libraries are joining it.
These days, it isn't business as usual at the Garden City Public
Library in Michigan. The building is intact and the collection of
books is in good shape, but no staff or patrons are on hand. That's
because the library, which is just outside Detroit, closed its doors
on June 17.
"It just floors me that this has come to happen here," said the
library's director, James Lenze, the day before the closure. He
attributed the shutdown to a reorganization of the town's financial
priorities in a tumultuous economy.
The local institution is just one of America's public libraries
that has struggled in recent years to stay afloat. A majority of
states have reported library closures in the past 12 months,
according to the American Library Association. While most of those
states estimated that one or two branches shut down, some reported
five to 10 closing their doors, which ALA says is part of a trend.
Many more libraries have tried to stay open by cutting back on
While there is no question that tight government budgets have
been a big factor in these reductions, some people point to a shift
from traditional stacks of books and periodicals to digital devices
that can be used for reading and information gathering.
Yet many librarians, vowing to avoid the fate of the Garden City
library, are not taking these problems lying down. Far from fighting
the digital revolution, they're joining it by greatly expanding
libraries' electronic offerings. They're also emphasizing some of
the free things in a library that go beyond books - including
children's programs and an experienced staff that can help with
everything from research to job hunts.
It's all an effort to try to ensure that such institutions are a
vibrant and relevant part of communities, which could then make it
harder for funding to be cut or for buildings to be closed.
"A physical library is more than just a collection of books,"
says Alan Inouye, director of ALA's Office for Information
Technology Policy in Washington.
In the past few years, more than 66 percent of US libraries have
expanded their digital offerings, ALA says. The most common step:
giving patrons the ability to browse virtual stacks and download
titles to electronic devices.
Access to digital resources has been the fastest-growing area of
use for the District of Columbia Public Library system, says Ginnie
Cooper, its chief librarian. …