This Is Your Library Libraries: Services Adapt to Trends, Community Needs

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

This Is Your Library Libraries: Services Adapt to Trends, Community Needs


Byline: Lauren Rohr lrohr@dailyherald.com

Public libraries have long been perceived as a place for visitors to curl up in a chair and read in silence.

Years ago, noise and activity within the building would be scarce. Shelves were stacked floor-to-ceiling with reference materials. Visitors often would select their books and check out immediately.

With the emergence of digital services and new technologies, libraries now must balance those traditional uses with a new responsibility: embracing the role of a community center for residents to gather, learn, study, be innovative, take classes, hold meetings, acquire skills and participate in group activities, said American Library Association President Sari Feldman.

In the suburbs, libraries are making that shift in a variety of ways, including implementing digital services, teaching technology training classes and offering more educational programs. Some are undergoing renovations or even putting up new buildings.

These transformations are happening nationwide, experts say, but there is no longer a formula for determining what makes a library successful and sustainable.

"We have to always be at the front lines of the needs of the community," said Betsy Adamowski, president of the Illinois Library Association and

Wheaton Public Library director. "Each library was the same a long time ago, but each community is different. So each community needs different collections, different services. It cannot be cookie-cutter anymore."

The misconception

Sue Wisley, communications manager at the Helen Plum Memorial Library in Lombard, says one of the greatest challenges public libraries face nowadays is fighting a common misconception: They're becoming obsolete.

With plans to build a new library and replace its decades-old facility, Helen Plum officials are putting a referendum on the November ballot seeking resident support. The new building would include a larger children's area, space for interactive learning, more meeting rooms and a drive-through service.

But such new projects often are met with resistance from people who argue the community's need for a library is diminishing, said Andy Dogan, director of library design at Itasca-based Williams Architects. In reality, their needs are simply changing -- a concept that became the focus of the American Library Association's public awareness campaign launched last year called "Libraries Transform."

"The way libraries are being used has changed tremendously, even in the last five years," said Dogan, who has headed several suburban library renovations, including ones in Naperville and Addison. "It's not even because books are going away. It's because people are starting to ask more and different things of a library."

According to a Pew Research Center study published in April, libraries nationwide have seen a decline in patrons. Last year, 44 percent of adults reported visiting a library at least once in the last 12 months, versus 53 percent in 2012. What that decline doesn't show, Dogan said, is that libraries often see a significant increase in use after a facelift. And even without a major renovation, some suburban libraries, including Fox River Valley, reported no decline or even an increase in the number of annual visitors.

The study also showed adults using libraries' websites has increased since 2012, from 25 percent to 31 percent. Feldman said the American Library Association in recent years noticed a bump in overall digital service usage and a drop in the circulation of physical materials.

Apps such as OverDrive and Hoopla, for example, allow residents with a library card to download e-books, audio books and videos. Library directors say districts are continually allocating more money to digital services and a larger e-book collection, though they will never fully replace printed books. …

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