Telephone calls were once made with the assistance of an operator.
Families were once entertained by gathering around a console radio.
Men and women once wore hats to church -- and most other places they ventured.
People used to fill out paper forms to apply for jobs.
A lot has changed since the era of the backward-looking reverie found in William H. Wisner's "Restore the noble purpose of libraries". (Christian Science Monitor, July 17, 2009.) Libraries were once a sacred secular space of silence and reverence – a place where one automatically lowered one's voice. As a direct heir to the Enlightenment, the establishment of libraries was a testament to the self-evident integrity of mankind, the belief that we all desire to find the truth through knowledge.
Libraries, like all other entities in our society, have made ongoing and carefully considered adjustments in order to remain relevant. If I had somehow been allowed to transform the Middleton Public Library into a "space of silence and reverance" during my years there as Director, we would have ended up serving a small, specialized, admittedly grateful clientele. But not the needs and wishes of the community at large.
From my personal experience, today's libraries are doing a great job balancing the diverse wants and needs of their communities without dumbing down their mission. Just for starters, take a look here, here, and here if you need proof.
Sidebar. During a freshman orientation program at UW Stevens Point two weeks ago, the Director of Career Services itemized the skills that today’s employers demand of the college graduates that they hire: technical ability/computer literacy; critical thinking and problem solving skills across disciplines; imagination; communication skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening); interpersonal skills (tact, diplomacy); leadership, context experience (internships, practica), and conflict management.
Knowledge gained not solely through the activities of reading and study, in other words.