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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Temple of Books/The People's University

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, July 31, 2011

Some people have described a public library as the “Temple of books.”


Other people have called it the “People’s University.”


The second phrase relates to the fact that the knowledge that can be attained at a public library allows anyone to educate themselves with the resources available.


That philosophy was the guide to the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie a century ago when he funded the construction of public libraries across the United States.


He wanted to empower the common man through education and information.


The same could be said for the funding provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to public libraries, to provide and enhance Internet and computer connections.


America’s public libraries consist of over 9,000 library systems with over 16,000 locations across the countryside.


A few of America’s public libraries have closed in the last couple of years, primarily branch libraries, and we are watching a special election in August that will decide the fate of the Troy, Michigan Public Library.


What is the future of America’s Public Libraries?


Libraries have changed as times have changed in our society.  I have watched the demise of 8mm and 16mm films, long-playing vinyl records, and videocassettes as formats in the public library collection.


Magazines have become current reading material, and back files of indexed periodicals used for research have been replaced with online databases.


Reference book collections are shrinking to online systems.


Surveys have found that today’s public libraries are still a combination of physical media (books, DVDs, CDs) as well as the growing virtual library (online databases, digitized documents, e-books)


What the future will bring to public libraries remains an unknown.


Public Libraries are busier than ever before, in the number of people coming to libraries, using libraries, and obtaining library cards.


What is happening is that more people than ever are using libraries, but in different ways than in the past.


Today, people look at the library catalog online, selecting their materials, and picking them up at the library rather than “browsing” the library stacks.


Other people are using the library databases from home or office; others are downloading e-books to their readers.


Libraries are collaborating to provide more and larger services to the public.  In our case, a database of 6 million items is offered instead of a building full of 40,000 books.


A database of 35,000 e-books instead of 200 e-books on one computer server.


At the same time, traditional books in a traditional libraries remains today, with librarians staffing public service desks, as libraries have become the remaining service desk in our communities to serve the public.


It is all information for people, and libraries are the same.  All that has changed are the tools that we use to provide that information.


Public Libraries provide the human element that is missing from the age of technology.