Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cedar Rapids: A response to "We don't need the same kind of library"

Link to October 22 Cedar Rapids Gazette column by Todd Dorman, "Relevance of Libraries".

But I hope we steer clear of arguments that we should downsize our ambitions because libraries are somehow a less-than-necessary, bygone relic.

In fact, I’d argue that in this dazzling, dizzying digital age, they’re more important than ever.

Earlier this month, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation released a sweeping report titled “Informing Communities — Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.” It argues that the health of America’s democracy and communities rests on plugging troubling gaps between the nation’s information haves and have-nots. Access to broadband Internet, for example, is a luxury for most low-income households. And that access gap leaves many on the political, social and economic sidelines.

Libraries, the report contends, should become vital centers for digital and media training. They should also serve as highquality online access hubs and central sources for civic information.

“Digital access is essential to first-class citizenship in our society,” said Alberto Ibarg├╝en, Knight Foundation president and CEO. “If a job application at Walmart or McDonald’s must be made online, how can we pretend that we have equal opportunity if significant portions of our communities don’t have access? Libraries can be part of the solution.” Unlike newspapers, circulation at libraries is steadily growing. Between 1998 and 2008, visits to Iowa libraries rose 41 percent and the number of cardholders jumped 22 percent.

Roughly 2 million Iowans have active library cards.

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