Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The value of libraries

Jamie LaRue, head of our county library system, wrote an interesting post about the value of libraries. He begins and ends with Yogi Berra quotes.

To begin: "You can observe a lot just by watching." To end: . . . --well, you'll have to read on.

The problem LaRue was trying to address: How "everyone" thinks libraries are outmoded and unnecessary, especially now that we have the internet and e-readers.

"Wrong-headed thinking!" says LaRue.
At the heart of the public library is the notion of community sharing. We are a cooperative purchasing agreement. . . . [P]ublic libraries take many small contributions of money, and leverage that into the purchase of collections, or access to collections, that are far beyond what any of us could afford individually.

You've got an ebook reader? Wonderful! . . . The library can provide books for your e-reader, too.

The argument is pretty straightforward: libraries are way more cost-effective than buying everything yourself, most of which you really don't want to keep anyhow. Just because the book is electronic doesn't change the value proposition. Teaming up - buying once, using many times - is a smart investment.

A second [benefit of libraries:] we help individuals of any and all ages and backgrounds to explore and discover anything they like . . . for school . . . for their jobs . . . learning a new language, or building a porch, or growing a garden, or learning to play banjo. Or . . . just reading science fiction or murder mysteries or romances or browsing fashion magazines. Public libraries are a patriot's dream: We are all about the pursuit of happiness.

A third [benefit of libraries:] we build community. . . . Last year our 7 locations in Douglas County racked up over 2 million visits. People come to homeowner's meetings, children's story times, civic clubs, and evening programs. They meet friends and associates. They chat with each other as they wait to use public computers. They get out of their homes and get to know one another.

So it's ironic. Often the busiest place in town, a place where people can follow their interests, save heaps of money, and build enduring bonds with their neighbors, libraries still have to fight the false perception that no one needs them.

Once again, Yogi nailed it. "Nobody goes there any more," he said. "It's too crowded."
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