When a teenager was fatally shot in a parking lot in King
County, Wash., the community came together to make the neighborhood
safer. And for support, they turned to the public library. Together
they created a program called Escape, which runs well-attended
programs for teens every Friday night.
Jackie Abdullah of Freeport, N.Y., also turned to the library
when she was looking for a place where her children could play and
she could find information on child-rearing. She went to her
library's Parent/Child Workshop. There, specialists identified both
her sons' learning disabilities, enabling her to find the right
educational programs for them.
Widespread computer use and the rise of the Internet has led
some observers to speculate about the demise of the local library.
But more and more, perhaps in response to the electronic pressure,
libraries are moving beyond their traditional job as book
repository and branching into electronic networks, family-service
programs, literacy classes, and even cafes.
"What you see are two fundamentally important trends," says
Diantha Schull, director of Libraries for the Future, a non-profit
advocacy group in New York. "One is to be far more active in terms
of services to children and youths, and to people seeking community
information. The other trend is to develop new technological
services and provide access."
The changes run the gamut:
* The Parent/Child Workshop, which runs at libraries across Long
Island, offers a place for parents to bring their young children
once a week. The library provides toys, parenting resources, and a
session with a different child-development specialist each time.
* The Naperville, Ill., library offers a set of programs,
including peer counseling, for middle-income managers who have been
downsized. Like many libraries, it now houses job information
centers, which usually include books, videos, computer terminals,
and job listings.
* An electronic network called Charlotte's Web, in Charlotte,
N.C., provides access to local information on elections, public
health, and other community concerns, and free public-access
terminals have been installed throughout the city.
Despite its wide reach, the Internet is limited in scope. It can
provide information, it can provide contact through "chats" or
e-mail with like-minded computer-users, but the interface is still
a keyboard with a screen. Libraries are finding an expanding role
for themselves in providing what the Internet can't: ways for
people to get together. …