Libraries: Essential Partners
Link to August 21 Charlotte Observer 'Viewpoint' by Neal Peirce, "Libraries: 'Great Good Places'".
Excerpt: The silver lining for communities, note library sources, is that threats of actual branch closures create such a strong pushback that most communities compromise with cuts that go no further than constriction in staff or branches.
The reality, says Audra Caplan, director of the Harford County, Md., Public Library and president of the Public Library Association, is that the role of public libraries has changed dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years. And computers and job-search assistance, while highly significant, aren't the whole story.
"We've turned ourselves into community centers," notes Caplan. "We have meeting rooms that get booked by community agencies, chess clubs, any not-for-profit. We bring in authors, we sponsor civic engagement-type programs. And we're attracting a larger share of the population - even teens, or parents with toddlers."
So what about serious research? "It's still healthy," Caplan insists. She acknowledges Google and Wikipedia are popular on the available computers. But libraries also subscribe to specialized and sometimes costly subscription databases - business, legal, health and other - and electronically extend the access to even their smallest branches. As for books (remember them?), libraries' per capita circulation has increased roughly 20 percent over the last decade.
And in a sense, libraries are as varied as America. Many provide specialized services, including translation and English instruction, to America's large populations of new immigrants. Some let patrons check out not just books but fishing poles, backpacks and garden tools.