Libraries Thriving, Busy, and Here’s Why
By Shane Billings, Adult Services Librarian
It’s Friends of Maine Libraries Week, and in honor of this, I have written this blog to illustrate some reasons that libraries are busy and active cultural centers, as relevant as, if not more so, than ever before.
When people find out that I work in a public library, they generally say one or all of the following: 1. What an interesting job, I always thought I would like to work in one; 2. That is so cool/great, I love libraries!; or 3. Aren’t they becoming irrelevant? The last one is sometimes spoken by very well educated lovers of books, and no ill will is meant. Once I explain to them how busy and relevant the library is, they are usually grateful and tell me they are glad to know but simply hadn’t realized.
At the Bailey Public Library in Winthrop, Maine where I work, we serve literally hundreds of people each week. As with any place of public service, there are quiet periods, but in four years, I have never experienced a truly inactive week. Sometimes we even get a line at the circulation desk similar to a retail operation, and if there is a newcomer to the library in the line, he or she might say “I didn’t realize the library was so busy, this is great!” Other times, people ask us why there is no parking: “Why are people using the library’s parking spots?” Well, because they are using the library.
Having established that the library is a thriving, well – used institution, I present eight reasons WHY: physical books, ebooks, readers’ advisory, cultural events, children’s services, public computers, reference questions, and sense of community.
1. Physical books. Yes, people are reading physical books in full force. A person said earlier in the year “why are they building bigger libraries? Everything is on Kindle now.” Well, no. As many articles touting the resurgence of the independent bookstore have pointed out, and as Stephen King has recently said, physical books are still widely read. We circulate thousands per month. Thousands. And guess what? There are people who own ereaders who still read physical books as well! And many people who do not want to read on ereaders! There are many ways to read, and we support and promote all of them, but physical books remain the single biggest reason people come through the door. Take away physical books, and the people will riot.
2. Ebooks. Having established that physical books are not going anywhere, let’s celebrate the beauty of ebooks and downloadable audio books! Having a library card entitles you to access to thousands of ebooks and downloadable audio books. So even the people who have given up physical books for ebooks, don’t always want to buy every single ebook they read. Thus, they sign up for a library card and gain access to a whole new world of reading. Like I said, libraries support access to ALL books.
3. Readers’ Advisory. Library patrons expect library staff to know their product in the same way a car salesperson knows cars or a florist knows flowers. When they come in, they want books, and a lot of the time, they are in a hurry. They just want us to tell them what to read. I probably know the reading habits of seventy five percent of our patrons, and there is nothing better than saying “you’re going to love this” or “I know you hate non linear narratives so this is not for you.” People depend on us and respect us for our knowledge of books and our attention to their particular preferences.
4. Cultural Events. Libraries offer everything from book discussion groups to art displays, author talks to poetry readings. Even things you wouldn’t necessarily associate with your public library like free yoga nights!
Our aim is to promote and foster culture and the arts in our communities.
5. Children’s services. An essential component of any public library is the children’s department, where kids can kick start a lifetime of reading. Free programs that we offer on a rotating weekly basis include music hours, kids yoga, and puppet story times. You can check out Lithgow, Gardiner, Hubbard Free, Readfield, Dr. Shaw, Carey Memorial, and Cumston for a similar variety of fun for kids at Central Maine libraries. We also work with our schools on Summer Reading programs to keep the love of books alive during the summer months.
6. Public Computers. One of the most popular features of public libraries are the public computers and free wi-fi. In a tough economy, many people have made the decision to get rid of internet in their homes. People use public libraries to apply for jobs, communicate with loved ones, print documents, and explore the internet. Without us, many people would be in a real bind. We are regularly told “thank you for being here,” and I imagine our fellow libraries hear the same. To turn a blind eye to the hundreds of people who rely on these services is to ignore something that is very real.
7. Reference questions. Even in the age of the internet, we get them. All kinds of them. I was recently helping a woman on the phone, and when I concluded the call, a patron said to me “you tell people the weather?” Yes, we do, and we give directions, provide the names of Supreme Court justices, and even crossword clues. We also show people how to navigate Dewey decimal systems, make appointments to teach people how to download ebooks, help people learn their way around gmail, send faxes, and whatever else is thrown at us. People come to the library for answers, and if we don’t have them, we do our best to find them.
8. Sense of community. This is really a huge part of why people come in. I have been told more than once “you guys are like our bar tender.” We are part of people’s Saturday errands, their morning commute, their after work destination for a movie to watch after dinner. They thank us for being there, they share stories from their lives, and they often run into friends who are also grabbing a book. The library is a community hub. And we extend the concept of community in any way we can, whether by partnering with schools, our town’s bookstores, or providing vital outreach services to nursing homes.
These are just some of the reasons that your public libraries remain busy, thriving, and well loved institutions. Happy Friends of Maine Libraries week, and to all of the library workers in my life, keep up the good work. We are not going anywhere.
From The Atlantic: Not Your Mother’s Library
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Our book stack is growing!
Our July newsletter is now available to download!
Maine artist Alison Rector has launched a new exhibition featuring paintings of Maine public libraries.
View a slideshow here: alisonrector.com/new-gallery-5/2014/5/23/in-praise-of-thought
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