It hurts deep in the part of me that loves books and libraries, and yearns for kinder and gentler times to tell you this: I think libraries are in trouble.
For such a long time I denied it. When people discovered I work in libraries, the question would always, always be asked: do we still need libraries?
My answer was prompt, empassioned, and vociferous: of course we do!
The library is an admirable 'third place', a safe and welcoming place for people to mix and mingle and be (catch the quote?) away from home or work. Libraries provide access to resources most people cannot afford - or even want to have - in their home. We are stocked with books, magazines, newspapers, microfilm, books on CD, DVDs, computer games; we offer programs for all ages; we make many dozens of databases available such as language learning tools, academic journals, ancestry searches, free educational courses and so on; we offer technology assistance, internet access, and try to maintain an online presence so anyone can discover us. We try to be warm, friendly, inviting, and efficient, but we, too, are a little overwhelmed with the rapid pace of change.
And all the while we're trying to figure out how to position ourselves in the modern world. The aging population is looking for large print or recorded material, while younger folks are looking for virtual resources... eEverything, or iWhatever. How do we cover both ends of the spectrum with diminished budgets; how do we keep staff up to speed with new developments when the minute you learn one new devise or system, it's already out of date? How do we appeal to young and older alike in an age of 3D movies and life-like graphics? How do we draw people out of their homes when nearly anything can be brought to the front door with a few keystrokes and a credit card number?
I've been noticing for several months now how quiet it is in the library. Sure, we have flurries of hectic activity, but generally we are commenting to each other, "Where is everyone?"
Circulation statistics are down. The door count is lower. Program attendance is smaller.
In the past month, two different libraries near me have disclosed initiatives to remain fiscally viable: one is reducing hours, and the other is eliminating three staff positions.
Aside from being nervous about my own employment future, I don't like what all this says about our world. Yes, people are downloading books and albums and movies... but somehow, I do still ardently believe there is nothing like a proper book. Is literacy truly fostered, is a deep and abiding love of reading encouraged by holding a tablet? Is information really absorbed and understood from a computer monitor?
I'm trying to be positive and hopefully, which is why I've called this post an ode, rather than a lament. I've been in love with libraries and bookstores all my life and fervently hope they will still be around when my nephews are raising children.